The Impact of Fantasy Football Participation on NFL Attendance

Article excerpt

Introduction

The fantasy sports industry has seen tremendous growth in both popularity and market size over the past decade. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) estimates that the fantasy sports industry is currently generating $2 billion dollars in revenue per year and that the number of people who play fantasy sports online has risen to more than 18 million people in the United States as of 2007. Fantasy sports leagues have been developed for all of the major sports, including football, baseball, basketball, hockey, and automobile racing. However, football has emerged as the most popular fantasy sport with over five times as many unique users of fantasy football sites, compared with users of fantasy baseball sites. (1)

For those unfamiliar with fantasy football, league participants conduct a draft prior to the start of the season in which exclusive "ownership" of real-life players is established. League rules establish a maximum number of players and generally require participants to play 1-2 quarterbacks, 2-3 wide receivers, 2-3 running backs, 1 tight end, 1 kicker, and a team defense. Each week before game day participants must decide who to play and who to bench. Participants can also make roster changes by trading with other league participants or by dropping players and acquiring new players from the flee agency (those players not claimed by other league participants).

Points are awarded based on the performance of each player in the starting lineup. Quarterbacks typically receive points for passing yards and touchdowns, wide receivers and tight-ends earn points for reception yardage and touchdowns, running backs receive points for yardage gained and touchdowns, kickers receive points for field goals, and so on. For head-to-head leagues, fantasy participants are matched up against one other participant for each week (in a round-robin structure), and the participant with the most points earns a win for that week. The win-loss record of the teams ultimately determines the league champion. (2)

While some leagues charge an entry fee for each participant and award the majority of that money to the league champion, most leagues are free to play, which means that people participate just for the thrill of competition. In either case, league participants generally spend a significant amount of time throughout the week researching players and teams in order to increase the likelihood of a win. For instance, the FSTA reports that active fantasy players spend an average of three hours per week thinking about their teams, indicating that managing a successful fantasy football team requires much more than just drafting players and sitting back to watch how the team performs. Many aspects of the game, such as injuries, trades, acquisitions, bye weeks, and various match-up scenarios, are integrated into fantasy play. The numerous websites offering fantasy advice for a fee are good indicators of just how much time and effort is put into managing a winning team each week.

Given the amount of time and attention put into managing a fantasy football team, fantasy participants often become more knowledgeable of the National Football League (NFL) than the average fan and are therefore arguably more involved in the sport. While the majority of NFL fans have a favorite team and are highly familiar with the players on that team (and maybe that team's rival), they are not as knowledgeable of the players on other teams with the exception of star players, such as Tom Brady and LaDainian Tomlinson. This is generally not the case for fantasy football participants. Joining a fantasy football league provides the incentive to become familiar and more knowledgeable of all of the athletes in the NFL, not just the ones on a favorite (and rival) team. Fantasy participants must be highly aware of players on all teams (including back-up players in case of an injury to the starter) if they expect to be a successful fantasy team manager. …