Fantasy sports turn big business

Sometimes, the real world is much less interesting than the one we create in our minds.

I learned this in high school when a group of my friends engaged in various role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons or Magic: The Gathering.

These games give players the opportunity to pretend they’re a vastly more powerful and influential being than they could possibly be in real life.

My friends would play these games at lunch every day and talked about their characters and their story lines for hour, in spite of the fact that they often got made fun of by both students and teachers.

I could never wrap my head around the math in those games, but I too longed to escape my humdrum reality. I broke free of my chains of melancholy by sitting alone in my bedroom for hours playing role playing video games for hours at a time.

Why would I spend that much time alone in my bedroom ignoring the outside world for so much of my adolescent life?

Well, I was an awkward, overweight and heavily emotional teen and playing a sword wielding, muscle bound hero fighting off evil gave me a sense of purpose, power and excitement that I could never have experienced on my own.

And that’s where fantasy football comes into play.

The connections between dice-rolling Dungeons and Dragons players and fantasy football may seem tenuous, but they are nearly transparent.

Fantasy football gives players a chance to craft their own high quality sports team. They draft, they trade and they call the shots. For all intents and purposes, they are the owner, captain, manager and coach of their team as they compete against other friends’ fantasy teams using arcane and difficult to understand rules systems.

Sound familiar to any D&D fans? After all, there are hundreds of arcane and difficult to understand rules that dictate how D&D players interact with each other and play the game.

Essentially, fantasy football is Dungeons and Dragons for sports nuts. And they’re both big business.

Don’t believe me? Let’s break down the numbers.

World of Warcraft is the most popular online role-playing game in the world. It’s run away success earns creator Blizzard over $1.75 billion dollars a year. Although no other game comes close to those kinds of numbers, it clear that there are huge bucks in the business of pretending to be someone else.

However, the role-playing game market has nothing on fantasy football profitability.

Are you ready for this? It takes a little bit of preparation to understand what a recent Forbes Magazine article by Brian Goff discovered. Take a breath, sit down and steel your nerves for this revelation.

Goff’s article revealed that financial experts have estimated that fantasy football creates $70 billion dollars every year.

Let that number sink in for a few moments because it can be a little baffling to understand at first. Fantasy football creates 70…billion…dollars…every year.

Feel free to continue reading once the dollar signs stop spinning in your eyes.

Understanding that level of monetary exchange is like trying to understand the concept of infinity: its outside any sensical meaning or reference point. You can only do it by comparing it to smaller numbers that make more sense.

For example, the NFL “only” makes $10 billion dollar a year.

That’s right: fantasy football brings in seven times more money than the sport it emulates.

Another comparison would be useful in fully understanding the reach of fantasy football: pornography.

Let’s not dwell on the moral or ethical implications of that particular industry. Let’s just focus on pure numbers: another Forbes article estimated that pornography is “only” a $4 billion to $10 billion dollar a year industry.

Let’s do one more comparison to really nail home the point. The International Business Times published a study by Challenger, Gray and Christmas that estimated how much money is lost every year due to American employees fiddling around with their sports teams while on the clock.

I won’t go into detail on the statistical mumbo jumbo Challenger, Gray and Christmas used to get its numbers, but it estimated that American employers lost $6.5 billion annually due to employees spending a minimum of an hour a day at work desperately trying to trade for Peyton Manning.

That’s nearly as much money as the total worth of the NFL.

Those kinds of numbers make it clear that fantasy football is a huge deal. Experts estimate that around 30 million people are playing fantasy football, which has caused many psychologists and sociologists to study this phenomenon to find out whether it is beneficial or harmful.

As you’d imagine, the results are rather inconclusive.

For example, Psychology Today writer Dr. Michael W. Austin declared that he hated his few seasons of fantasy football due to how it brought out his obsessively competitive streak.

He shares an anecdote about one game where he was ahead “…until the final moments of a Monday Night Football contest between Denver and someone else. My fantasy opponent had Rod Smith, who scored a meaningless (for the Broncos) TD at the end of the game in a Denver loss.”

The Broncos didn’t win because of its touchdown. But, for Austin’s fantasy game it “…was this score that pushed my opponent over the top, and I lost. This kind of thing would drive me crazy as a fantasy owner, but that is just part of the game.”

Austin also believes that fantasy football has the ability to “threaten to divide your loyalty as a fan.” Fantasy players are often fans of a specific team, but don’t always get players from that team on their fantasy squad.

As a result, they may find themselves cursing at their favorite team’s star running back, as he scores a touchdown to win a game. His team may win, but those points give his fantasy opponent the edge to knock him out of the playoffs again that year.

Sickeningly, many fantasy players cheer when an opponent’s player gets injured. Cheering for injuries on an opposing team is an unfortunately common activity in sports, but it shows its ugly head no more clearly than in fantasy sports, as fantasy players are far removed from the reality of day to day life for the average player.

These negatives are countered by several articles that glowingly illustrate the positive benefits of fantasy football.

Fantasy Analyst Jason Smith of lists several different benefits of fantasy football such as increased knowledge of the game, staying in touch with old friends and even interacting with new people.

I can back this assessment. My fantasy football league has taught me about players I never knew existed and helped me stay in touch with my old NMU buddies.

The Fantasy Sports Math Web site is an educational website that extols the virtues of fantasy football. They claim it benefits students by: creating a student-centered environment that allows students to increase their decision-making skills; boosting math skills in real life situations; increasing student attention span; improving socialization skills; and engaging students in learning in a fun, active manner.

Do these benefits outweigh the negatives of fantasy football? I think so, but it is important to keep a strong head on your shoulders and not get too wrapped up in the make believe world engendered by fantasy football.

After all, if my role playing friends understand that there is no dungeon or dragon and that their +10 attack rating doesn’t make them invincible, fantasy football players should be able to understand that their team doesn’t actually exist and that their investment in the league is just a safe and fun way to pretend to be someone big for a few hours.