A Growing Reality; Fantasy Sports Surpass Traditional Games

Article excerpt

Byline: Tim Lemke, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Jeff Surdej has one rule of the fantasy sports industry down pat: If you can keep score with it, you can make a fantasy game out of it.

Surdej took that advice to heart two years ago when he formed two fantasy leagues based on professional waterskiing and wakeboarding tours - hardly the stuff of "SportsCenter" highlights.

"My buddies and I got to talking and thought it'd be a cool idea," said Surdej, a water sports enthusiast who has lured about 1,000 users to Web sites like fantasywaterski.com. "And I think it will definitely help grow the sport."

Surdej is a prime example of a trend in the fantasy sports industry: auto racing, golf, fishing and even niche sports like curling and cricket now are fodder for a whole new segment of fantasy games.

About 16 million adults in America played one or more fantasy sports last year, nearly 13 million of them participating in football and 5 million in baseball, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

But fantasy auto racing, led by NASCAR-oriented games, drew 4.16 million players, more than both basketball and hockey. Fantasy golf now lures more than 1.1 million players, 7 percent of all fantasy sports participants.

Meanwhile, fantasy leagues for niche sports are popping up all over the Internet. There now are leagues for curling, paintball, waterskiing and cricket. Fans of popular television shows like "American Idol," "Dancing With the Stars" and "Deal or No Deal" created their own leagues, forcing industry experts to ponder exactly what constitutes a fantasy sport and what's just entertainment.

"It boggles your mind a little bit that there's enough interest in some of these things," said FSTA president Jeff Thomas, who recently took a call from a man in India looking to form a fantasy badminton league.

In response to the emergence of these new games, the FSTA recently decided to expand its annual survey of fantasy enthusiasts, asking participants what fantasy sports they played aside from those based on major sports leagues. …