A Healthy Fantasy Life; in a Booming Armchair Industry, Football Rules the Roost

By Gordon, Devin | Newsweek, August 29, 2005 | Go to article overview

A Healthy Fantasy Life; in a Booming Armchair Industry, Football Rules the Roost


Gordon, Devin, Newsweek


Byline: Devin Gordon (With Stephen Saito)

Four days before his wedding last September, my college roommate called to say hello. I was his best man, and I was a bit nervous about the job. But talk soon turned, as usual, to our fantasy football team. We were facing our first crisis of the season: our top running back, Shaun Alexander of the Seattle Seahawks, was on a bye week, and his backup wasn't getting any carries. We needed another RB, fast. But after throwing around some names, I started to feel bad. Didn't we have more serious matters to discuss? My closest pal was about to be married, for crying out loud. Was there anything I could do to help? Did he need to talk? I braced for a heart-to-heart. "Find us a running back," he said. "This is your top priority. "

As the NFL preseason swings into high gear, 10 million Americans are beginning to reorganize their real priorities--work, family, mental health--to make room for an altogether pointless one: fantasy football. They will have trouble falling asleep at night and they'll blame it on Terrell Owens, the Philadelphia Eagles' wide receiver, whose big mouth might (or might not--who knows?) torpedo a big season. And they'll chip in, on average, $154 a head to an industry that, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, will top $3 billion in 2005. It barely existed just a decade ago. "The game has transitioned from a geek mentality to a cool mentality," says Steve Snyder of Sportsline.com, the leading Web site for fantasy players. "It's become like the NCAA Tournament brackets. You've gotta do it. Who doesn't ?"

Fantasy football is a game of statistics: you "draft" players, collect points based on how many yards and touchdowns they roll up in actual NFL games, and compete against other "fake" teams. It's a cousin of rotisserie baseball, with fewer stats to manage and only a day's worth of games per week. And it has emerged as the industry's juggernaut largely because the NFL has wholeheartedly embraced the game. Why? It turns football fans into bigger football fans. According to Chris Russo, the NFL's senior vice president of new media, fantasy participants watch nearly three hours more football per week than nonfantasy viewers. …

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