Let’s be clear here. The Schumpeterian moment did not skip over fantasy sports. This multibillion dollar industry got its wings from the Internet and exploded into where we are now.
I’ve focused much of this blog on the five W’s, but have avoided the H. How did the meteoric rise of fantasy sports happen?
I remember playing fantasy football as a kid. My family joined a league with friends and neighbors and we drafted in somebody’s house with pens and paper. Weird, huh? To prepare for the draft, we bought fantasy magazines. Yes, magazines still existed back then. The magazines broke down draft order, strategy and sleepers, like ESPN.com, Rotoworld.com and Rotoexperts.com do now. I remember our “steal of the draft” was Bam Morris and our team name was “WPB,” which stood for “We Prefer Baseball.” If I can recall, we finished in next to last place.
Home drafts and paper magazines gave way to the glitz and glamor of online fantasy sports in the late-90’s. Two online innovators, Commissioner.com (now CBS Fantasy Sports) and RotoNews.com (now RotoWire), altered the fantasy landscape. They gave users the ability to easily customize leagues and also offered accessible analysis. League customization and analysis are the two major factors in the growing popularity of online fantasy sports.
First, league customization is vital to playing online. In fact, it may be the leading decision point for players. In recent years, personalization has emerged in fantasy sports. Players will refer to the traditional rules of fantasy football as “Standard Scoring;” however, these settings are not so standard anymore. Nowadays, many leagues are PPR leagues, or Point Per Reception. This means that a player gets a full point for a reception. While this may seem minor in effect, it can have a great impact on a season and greatly influences strategy. There are head to head vs. rotisserie leagues, auction vs. draft and even more obscure settings like return yards for punt and kick returners. All of these customizations are offered online.
In addition to the ability to customize, the Internet has offered quality and timely analysis. Each site has its own unique way to offer information and opinions to help fantasy players. For instance, Yahoo! offers live fantasy analysis for three hours every Sunday morning. If you are on the site, the Yahoo! fantasy experts appear on your team’s homepage giving injury news, advice and answering lineup questions. ESPN even implements a semi-paywall for fantasy information. ESPN Insider gives in-depth analysis and research on nearly every aspect of fantasy sports, but you need a subscription for access. More importantly, however, for the casual player, most of these sites make it very easy to access the information. Typically there will be some sort of marker next to the player’s name if there is news. Therefore, players can access all the necessary information for fantasy success from one page for free.
While major customization and in-depth analysis can be pricey, it is often much cheaper than the hundreds of dollars Commissioner.com cost over a decade ago. What does that mean? More money in the pot. The less money each player has to spend on the website, the more they can spend on the buy-in. Each year, the major fantasy sites introduce various nuances that take advantage of the Internet. Like Yahoo!’s live video analysis, ESPN takes advantage with its global competition. They have ESPN Uber Challenge, a competition where each player tries to accumulate as many points in every ESPN Fantasy game as possible. Seems pretty intense, huh? I can tell you from personal experience that it is very time-consuming. Prizes range from ESPN merchandise to Best Buy gift certificates and even live sporting events. And yes, registration is free.
As each fantasy site takes advantage of the ease and benefit of the Internet, there is no telling where fantasy sports will be in five or ten years. Just check out Facebook’s Title Town to catch a glimpse.