“Fantasy Football Turns Into a Nightmare,” by Jason Gay. The Wall Street Journal, 9/17/2015.
The popularity of Fantasy Football seems to have exploded this year, and TV ads for their sites have pretty much replaced beer ads during timeouts. Professional sports has pumped $300 million into each of two major Fantasy sites, DraftKings and FanDuel, a bet they expect to win. Right now, the Fantasy is about football, but basketball and baseball will soon follow with the changing seasons. Jason Gay’s article describing his experience as a rookie Fantasy manager was the final straw that pushed me into learning what it is all about.
I am not an actual player, and never expect to be one, so take all I say with a big dose of salt, and email me if you find parts I have misunderstood (a real possibility).
First off, it is a game based on real life, but without the effort required by actual real life, at least for the gamer. Combine that with legal gambling, and you have a dream activity for many idle young men.
I guess when you are a young male living in your parent’s basement with a master’s degree in Aroma Therapy, with a huge student debt and no girlfriend, getting nagged daily by your mother to at least make your bed, and can only find an hourly job as a barista in an airport coffee shop, you need a diversion. But when you log off, one more week will be down the drain, and your crappy life will still be as it was.
Fantasy Football combines everything near and dear to a young male: a challenge to his self-perceived superior football knowledge, bragging rights and trash-talking with his friends, plus the possibility of actually earning a profit, however unlikely. The football knowledge we are talking about is not the knowledge of physically playing the game, but the knowledge of how well others, the professionals, play the game. Big difference.
It is a cash cow for the Fantasy Football sites, which is why we see so many of their ads. Not only do they reap fees from the players, they reap fees for ads on their own site. Cable companies, TV producers and the professional leagues love it because it boosts the ratings of the many boring match-ups each week—those games, as Gay puts it, “that are as entertaining as a goat taking a nap.” It’s a winner for all of them.
How it works: (Keep in mind, this is where my knowledge is shaky.) You start out at an auction with an imaginary budget that you spend on a limited roster of actual, real players, both defensive and offensive. In one variation, you get to pick (draft) your team, one at a time in the order you joined, but have to stay under a total salary cap. The whole process, Gay found, feels like a slow drive to Vermont, and you soon grab anybody just to get it over with.
You then earn points for their performance that week. For example, you may have allotted for your offensive team 1 quarterback, 1 placekicker, 2 running backs, 1 tight end, 2 wide receivers, and 7 bench. Points are earned something like 4 for a passing touchdown, 0.1 for each yard gained. You can also lose points, such as minus 2 for throwing an interception. The defense team has a similar point system, like 6 points for a fumble recovery, 1 point for a sack. Your benched players earn nothing, no matter how well they played that week (resulting in many cries of anguish when a benched player scores big).
Many good plays that cannot be quantified earn no points. If one of your guys throws a terrific block that springs lose someone else’s player, you get nothing. It’s only about measurable statistics. To keep up, you have to follow several games at once, wherever one of your team is playing. It doesn’t matter whether the real team wins or loses, it only matters how your guy did. You hope your cheap rookie surprises everyone by playing well, and you will root for him to the end, long after the winning team is clear to everyone.
The DraftKings site charges $20 to enter and the top score wins $2 million. The next highest 125,700 players win a share of the $10 million prize pool. Big money is involved, and they must get a huge number of entries. Many players must soon realize if they submit 5 rosters at $20 a pop, they have 5 times the chances of winning. Gambling operations are masters at boosting their customer’s hopes.
There are all sorts of variations in leagues online, offline, in offices, in schools, as many as a group of young, inebriated unemployed guys can think up, which is endless. Some leagues have hoards of players, some only a few friends.
I understand the big push came after 2006 when the federal government declared all of this fantasy betting is based on skill, not chance, so it is not gambling. (Any bozo on the street knows better.) Betting on team results is illegal gambling, but betting on individual performance is not. Go figure, but that’s how our government sees it. The DraftKings TV commercial ends with the fine print, “18 years of age or older. For entertainment purposes only. Not a gambling website.” Really? Who knew? Not gambling is the real fantasy.
I am still fuzzy on how the weekly stats are tabulated. I assume the websites post the points earned by each player in the NFL. Can a league of friends join a gambling site for free to get the data, but not the prizes? The DraftKings commercial says anyone can play for free, but I would have to create an account to learn the details. I am suspicious of doing even that, but accounts of non-participating players would give them access to potential customers any advertiser would envy.
We are certain to see even more Fantasy betting. It is a financial bonanza for too many big commercial operations with political clout. For their gullible customers, not so much.