Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

NFL Empire Fueled by Fantasy

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

NFL Empire Fueled by Fantasy

Article excerpt

The NFL saw it coming.

Fantasy sports was just beginning to explode in 2009. And the largest professional sports league in the United States decided it needed to own a piece.

So the NFL unveiled a fantasy platform on NFL.com at the start of the 2010 season, reaching for a share of the burgeoning market. Since then, the number of fantasy players has exploded from 28.4 million to 41.5.

Fantasy football now accounts for 70 percent of the market, well ahead of runner-up baseball. And it only helps the NFL grow its $10 billion a year empire.

"It's definitely become a healthy business for us," said Daniel Shlossman, the NFL's director of product management for fantasy football and mobile games. "The industry really took off when we entered that market."

Just the fact that the league employs a director for fantasy football shows its power. Fantasy is routinely the top navigational item on its website, driving traffic to other NFL properties.

And in an example of art -- or marketing -- imitating life, the league promoted Sunday's Pro Bowl as "Fantasy football for real." The NFL, looking to revitalize its stale All-Star game, began picking the teams last season not by conference but in a fantasy- style draft, hoping to capitalize on its popularity.

Fantasy's value far exceeds the revenue it directly generates. Even platforms run by Yahoo!, ESPN and CBS only feed the league's success.

They have produced higher TV ratings and merchandise sales, as well as subscriptions to DirectTV's Sunday Ticket and NFL RedZone.

Increased TV ratings alone make fantasy well worth the league's investment and attention. The NFL reaps about $5 billion annually from contracts with CBS, ESPN, FOX and NBC.

"Fantasy at its very core gets fans closer to the game," Shlossman said. "Our most avid fans -- especially within digital -- are those playing fantasy. …

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