Sports

Living in a fantasy football world

If you’ve never heard of fantasy football, you’ve been living with the Geico cavemen for the last 10 years.

With the kickoff of the NFL season quickly approaching, millions and millions of Americans are rummaging through the stacks of magazines at supermarkets or surfing the thousands of Web sites dedicated to fantasy football, preparing for their league’s draft.

Fantasy football is here to stay. No one can doubt that anymore.

According to a recent survey by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, there are more than 19 million fantasy sports players in the U.S. and Canada. The number of players has grown 7 percent to 10 percent a year for the past three years. About 85 percent of all fantasy sports participants play fantasy football, mainly online.

“The groundbreaking survey of all of the North American major sports market shows fantasy sports continues to expand and a burgeoning youth market bodes well for future growth,” FSTA President Jeff Thomas said.

The FSTA also estimates that each fantasy football participant spends a little over $150 each season on Internet scouting reports, magazines and other data — making fantasy football well over a $2 billion industry.

A huge part of the success of fantasy football can be attributed to the Internet. Hundreds of Web sites are currently catering to fantasy fans all over cyberspace.

Sites like Yahoo, CBS SportsLine.com and ESPN offer real-time updates, strategies and opinions on who to start and who to bench, and a click of the mouse will change your lineup. The Web sites offer several free leagues, but players can also pay money for places like Yahoo to run their league completely, including scheduling, trades and scoring.

At ESPN.com, which operates the third-largest fantasy football league and the most popular sports-related site, overall traffic last year was up 17 percent. Executives credit the site’s fantasy league for the spike.

The undisputed effect of fantasy football fans on the Internet has even caught the attention of the advertisers on Madison Avenue.

Marketers and sports sites are thrilled with the amount of dedication that fantasy football players have shown over the years. The rise in visits allows site operators to use the players as bait in front of advertisers.

“Fantasy leagues are everything that brand managers and sports marketers would ever want,” Thomas said. “Fantasy players are the most engaged consumer you can find.”

The average fantasy player is a 37-year-old white-collar man with a bachelor’s degree and an annual household income of $76,689, according to FSTA. That profile — a notoriously tough demographic for marketers to reach — has enticed the likes of Chevrolet, Verizon, Master Card and other big-time brands into advertising for fantasy football products such as TV shows, scouting report magazines and online leagues.

“It’s the most attentive audience that you’re going to get,” says Chris Russo, NFL senior vice president of new media and publishing. “These people aren’t just spending five minutes on the Web site. They’re going on the Web site and spending an hour and a half.”

In fact, the average time per week that fantasy players spend managing their teams is rising, FSTA says. Last year, fantasy football owners spent an average of two hours, 58 minutes a week online or 38 minutes every day. And they are also surfing fantasy sites while at work. According to FSTA, almost two-thirds of players say they check their fantasy teams online during the work day.

So what’s all the buzz about?

The most basic fantasy football leagues typically are made up of 10 team owners. Each participant drafts between 16 and 20 NFL players. An owner will then be allowed to activate nine players; usually a single quarterback, tight end and kicker, plus two at the running back position and three at wide receiver, as well as an NFL team’s defense.

An owner earns points based on the performance of the individual players and defense. Quarterbacks typically earn six points for each touchdown they pass for, as well as a point for every 25 yards in passing yardage they accumulate. Running backs and receivers also get six points for touchdowns and points for yardage.

Fantasy football stemmed from the ideas of Wilfred Winkenbach. In the late 1950s, he had developed the first fantasy sport, golf, in which each participant would draft a team of professional golfers and the lowest combined score at the end of a tournament would win. He then applied this concept to baseball, using home-run hitters and pitching statistics.

By 1962, Winkenbach, who owned part of the Oakland Raiders, presented his idea for fantasy football to two writers for the Oakland Tribune in a Manhattan hotel. The three quickly formed an eight-team league, based on the point system they came up with that night: 10 points for an extra point, 25 points for a passing touchdown, 25 points for a touchdown reception, 25 points for a field goal, and 200 points for a punt, kickoff or interception returned for a touchdown.

The NFL season kicks off this year Sept. 6 with a Thursday game between the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts. And you can bet millions of fans will be waiting to get to their computers to check their fantasy players.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

Mirror's fantasy football challenge:

Test your fantasy football knowledge against other Federal Way Mirror readers.

The Mirror is jumping on the fantasy football bandwagon and wants to get the community involved.

Sports editor Casey Olson will be setting up and acting as the commissioner of the Federal Way Mirror Fantasy Football League. We are looking for dedicated fantasy football players who can commit to running their teams throughout the season.

There will be weekly prizes awarded for the highest point total and the ultimate winner of the league will receive a cash/merchandise/gift certificate prize package, which is currently being put together. But we guarantee it will be worth your time.

To get involved, contact sports editor Casey Olson at sports@fedwaymirror.com or call (253) 925-5565. Responses must be received by Aug. 27 with the league’s draft being held Aug. 31.

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