Fantasy football speeds up

Before the Internet and cell phones and TV packages that let you watch every pro football game,…

Georgia (Aug 17, 2009) — Before the Internet and cell phones and TV packages that let you watch every pro football game, playing fantasy football took a lot of work. It sounded geeky – football fans who were so hard-core that they selected individual NFL players to be on their “team,” then figured out if they won by scouring USA Today box scores for player statistics on Monday mornings.

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Today, though, as football season kicks into high gear, fantasy football has become mainstream. From its small roots in the 1980s, it has now played by an estimated 20 million people in North America, making it easily the most popular fantasy sport.

An industry has grown up around it, too, with legions of companies touting products to give players an edge. There are companies that can text message you updates on players, sell you software with complex algorithms to tell you what players to pick and iPhone applications that allow you to manage your team on the go.

There's no doubt that technology has changed fantasy football. The Internet, with gobs of instant information, has made the hobby more accessible to a greater number of people, especially as mobile devices and Web access from home become more popular.

At the same time, though, to compete with friends who are managing their teams using smart phones or round-the-clock Internet access, some players feel pressure to devote more time to the hobby than they would like. The average time spent managing a fantasy football team increased 56 percent between 2002 and 2006, to 4 hours and 18 minutes a week, according to a 2007 study.

“It's an arms race,” says J.C. Bradbury, an economist at Kennesaw State University in Georgia who studies the economics of sports. “If you can get better technology, you can win your league. … Part of the fun of being in the arms race is trying to be one of the leaders.”

Info available all the time

When John Hansen and some friends started playing fantasy football in the 1980s, they had to submit their handwritten starting lineups by 8 p.m. Friday. If a player wound up sitting out on Sunday because of an injury, too bad – that player would earn no points.

Now, though, with player information more widely available, managers can see if a player is active for a game or not and make changes just minutes before a 1 p.m. kickoff on Sunday. Or when out to dinner during the week, managers can look on their smart phone and see that, say, Washington Redskins running back Clinton Portis is predicted not to play that week and immediately pick up his backup, Ladell Betts.

“Now it's more enjoyable, but it's also more stressful,” says Hansen, who lives in New Jersey and publishes Fantasyguru.com magazine and runs a Web site that provides tips. “There are ways for people to have an advantage that can be annoying.”

Still, he says the ability to play with a widespread group of people and use different scoring formats make playing more fun than in the past.

Related industries abound

Meanwhile, an entire industry has grown up designed to appeal to fantasy owners looking for an advantage.

Go into any bookstore, and there are likely to be several fantasy football magazines. On the Web, dozens of companies – typically small, one- or two-person operations – offer services to fantasy football managers.

Experts say that with the recession, sites are moving toward a model that's free to users and that makes money by selling advertising. Fantasy players are a desirable demographic, says Kim Beason, a professor who studies leisure behavior and consumer behavior at the University of Mississippi.

According to Beason's yearly survey of more than 500 fantasy players, the average player is between 36 and 41, white-collar, with at least a bachelor's degree and an annual income of more than $80,000 a year. More than 80 percent are men.

And it's a dedicated audience, too. Beason says the average male fantasy owner thinks about his fantasy team 31 minutes a day during the season.

“The only thing going through a man's mind that permeates it more is sex,” he says. “It's not work, it's not home life. During the season, (fantasy football) is pretty powerful.”

Ryan Stewart, 35, says he spends about 10 hours a week online researching football and managing his four fantasy football teams – about triple what he spent a decade ago. Technology, he says, has improved fantasy football, because “you can do more of the smack talk” on e-mail because everyone easily and quickly sees results.

But some competitors who lack Internet access at home have complained that they cannot make the same roster moves as those who are constantly plugged in. “They are the bottom-dwellers in the leagues,” Stewart says. “We say, you just need to get a laptop and Internet access.”

Though technology helps, it's no guarantee of success. Stewart, who manages a call center in Charlotte, raced to his computer last November after he heard starting New York Giants wide receiver Plaxico Burress shot himself in the thigh in a New York nightclub. Stewart added backup Domenik Hixon, but Hixon came nowhere close to replacing Burress' numbers.

“It was an Internet projection that went wrong,” Stewart says.

More detailed advice

The latest trends, people in the industry say, are toward giving players highly customized advice and content. Increasingly, that information is being delivered across different platforms, including text messaging, e-mail alerts and smart phones.

There are also high-powered draft tools that try to predict which players will perform best during the season. One such program promises to “take the guesswork out of your fantasy football draft” using an algorithm developed by computer scientists. There are also more than a dozen fantasy football applications for the iPhone, most of which offer help in drafting a team.

Fantasy football is the most popular fantasy sport. Its growth has flattened in the last couple of years, industry experts say, perhaps in part because of the down economy. The No. 1 reason people quit playing is they say it takes too much time, which could be a challenge to growth in the future as technology advances.

One of the next big developments in fantasy sports technology could be the widespread introduction of Internet-ready television, which could eventually, for instance, allow players to get up-to-date player news scrolled across the bottom of the screen as they and their spouse snuggle up on the couch to watch “Lost.”

“If your spouse doesn't like the level of fantasy sports in your life now, it's only going to get worse,” says Paul Charchian, president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

Charchian says technology has created a distinction between casual and hard-core players. He says typically, there are three managers in a league who are “really really hard-core” and monitor player news minute-by-minute. That doesn't always sit well with other players.

“If you're a casual player and you want to win, you should really take the temperature of the other owners in your league and ask yourself, ‘Am I swimming with sharks?'” he says. “If you're not going to be following it every day, you'll probably lose. If you're OK with that, that's great.”


 

A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its approximately 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status, and one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu

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