Winners or Losers: Participants in Fantasy Games Redefine Leisure Sports

Article excerpt

When I was a young boy in the 1960s, nothing was snore important to me than sitting with my dad, uncles and grandfather on the lawn during a harvest moon night listening to Ernie Harwell announcing the latest adventures of our favorite baseball team on the transistor radio. Although the games were exciting, my richest memories come from the family stories that were repeatedly told between innings. We boys kept our ears perked, hoping to hear some new family secret or past grievance aired. Back in those clays, there were only two ways a sports fan could find out if his team won or lost--listen to the radio, or wait to read the sports pages in the newspaper the following morning.

Today, some 40 years later, the time-honored American pastime of following sports has changed dramatically. Participation in sports has been permanently altered by the influence of the World Wide Web on our daily lives. Without question, the Internet has impacted peoples' lives, especially their engagement in leisure. Rather than joining a fast-pitch softball team, swim club, or tag football team, millions of people now play what is known as fantasy sports. Fantasy sports are Internet sites devoted to gambling via fantasy sport leagues. The fundamental appeal of fantasy sports, or fantasy leisure as it is also known, is that it brings participants closet to the games they love. Thanks to the World Wide Web, people have no limits in discovering obscure research and statistics on their favorite players, or hunting for new opponents around the globe.

As a result of this new, unprecedented access to sport information, Geoff Reiss, senior vice president of ESPN Internet Ventures, suggests that fantasy sports leads all sports-related Internet use. "Nothing comes close to this. It's a really big deal," he said.

Fantasy sports are now estimated to be generating more than $600 million per year in advertising and subscription fee revenues (Forbes Magazine, September 2000), and are one of the few business-to-consumer Web industries that actually makes money. Although this virtual reality participation in fantasy sports as recreation may seem benign, the level of physical inactivity, and the number of hours involved in fantasy sports, should grab the attention of recreation and park professionals and galvanize them into action.

In addition to the excitement of virtual reality ownership, another major reason that people participate in fantasy sports involves the entertainment element. For some fantasy sport leaguers, this experience is a fulfilling substitute for attending an NFL, MLB, or other sports game. Baseball fans, for example, who have followed their favorite team since they were children--collecting baseball cards, going to professional games, collecting autographs, eating hotdogs at the outdoor ball parks--keep up with the news on players each and every day. Baseball fans have always pored over statistics and used them to argue the merits of their favorite players: DiMaggio, Williams, Mantle, Mays, McGuire, or Sosa to name a few.

Who Are These Fantasy Sport Players?

A fantasy sports player is a man or woman who owns a team, each year drafts a pool of players for a specific league (NFL, NBA, MLB, etc.), and then manages his/her team like a bona fide sports team owner. Being a fantasy sports team manager is an empowering and exhilarating experience requiring little investment. It brings all the pleasures of being George Steinbrenner with none of the headaches, risks, or financial investments. Fantasy sports has evolved to cover almost every sport genre: auto racing, baseball, basketball, bicycle racing, howling, boxing, cricket, dog racing, fishing, football, golf, gynmastics, hockey, figure skating, volleyball, softball, horse racing, lacrosse, rugby, skiing, soccer, tennis, and even tug of war. These fantasy sports are played nationally and internationally by millions of dedicated users. However, the National Football League and Major League Baseball are the two most commonly played fantasy sports. …

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