Fantasy Football Conspiracy Theory

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I have a conspiracy theory.  Somewhere in the world, in a hidden room decked out with 72’ HDTV’s, endless remote controls, and lazy boys lined up in a row, a secret society of Fantasy Football Illuminati is conspiring to take over the world, one league at a time. 

My husband thought my theory was absurd, until we walked into a local Sports Bar on a Sunday afternoon that was as packed to the gills with screaming Fantasy Football fans dressed in sports attire. The internet connection was down in the restaurant after being bombarded by team owners checking their points on their iPhones. That night we watched a promo for a new show on TV about Fantasy Football called The League.  The next morning the news released a story suggesting that Fantasy Football has become the new Internet Porn for guys at work.  But, the icing on the cake has been the many guys in our congregation who have sheepishly confessed to my husband, a pastor, of their inner torment when debating between attending church or snuggling up in front of the game on Sunday morning.

At some point, I got his attention and a begrudging acknowledgement from him on my tongue in cheek theory.  This has opened up a great dialogue as to the many reasons why the game has recently gained a disproportionate amount of popularity among mainstream American males. So, maybe the secret room (in all reality) is full of ad executives from ESPN, but there is no doubt that a movement from within our culture has changed the face of sports fans and what used to be a hobby for a dedicated few, has turned into a phenomenon.

Exactly how many dudes are we talking about? Well, there are about 30 million fantasy players in the U.S. and Canada, which is an increase of 54 percent from just two years ago.[1]  According to Tim Keller, commissioner of The Men of Mariners League, part of the growing interest in Fantasy Football may be attributed to the growing availability of free game software.  In the beginning of the Internet boom, sites like Commissioner.com and RotoNews.com charged a hefty fee for commissioners (up to $300) which made the game cost prohibitive for the average NFL fan.  Most commissioners spent an inordinate amount of hours hand entering stats into an excel spreadsheet.  It was a job that only the dedicated and few could maintain.

That changed in 1999, when Yahoo began offering a free simplified version of the league software, but it was lackluster at best, and if you wanted the Stat Checker you had to pay extra. In 2009 Yahoo made an even more impressive move by offering their formerly Premium Services for free. ESPN followed suit, and all of a sudden Fantasy Football became available to the masses.  In a time of economic downturn, this little gift is akin to trading the injured Clinton Portis for Adrian Peterson.

Another factor driving the venerated game is quite simply—camaraderie.   Guys enjoy having a common purpose and goal.  The heckling at the water cooler, the taunts, the late night trades and the draft party take alienated men who struggle with relational skills and transform them into skilled negotiators.  After approaching my husband about drafting my own team this year, I was surprised at his vacuous response.  After some probing, I realized he didn’t really want me to join his league or any other for that matter.  He associates Fantasy Football as a “guy thing” and subconsciously wanted to protect one of the last bastions of inherent maleness.  I respect his stance of inclusiveness, and though I may still draft a team on Yahoo next year, I won’t push him to let me join the guys.  I will go after his drafting stats though because they are a work of art (a complex algorithm he created on a spreadsheet)!

Then there is the sheer fun of the game.  Like any hobby or recreational activity, Fantasy Football is an escape from reality. No mindless waste of time here, drafting a team requires gut instinct, intense preparation, knowledge and yes…mad skill. Managing a team, tracking free agents, monitoring injured players and figuring out what players to start each week is a labor intensive activity. 

Is it any surprise that over half the players surveyed admitted they spend at least one hour per day thinking about their fantasy football team.[2] Another study from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association revealed that fantasy sports participants spend about three to four hours on the Internet per week, with nearly 1.2 hours of that time at the office.  This too has become a controversial subject. 

Those who argue against it suggest it is the new Internet porn for a generation of upwardly mobile, white-collar professionals[3], while players shot back with some research of their own. A 2006 Ipsos Survey found that 40 percent of respondents said fantasy sports participation was a positive influence in the workplace. One in five said their involvement in fantasy sports enabled them to make a valuable business contact.  As a wife, I tend to argue the upside…Football or Porn?   Umm, how about Football!

Thumbing through a Fantasy Football magazine, I was struck dumb by the wording of this advertisement.  Fantasy Football is fun.  You can play God with your players. Control their destinies.  Draft them…Trade them…Fire them![4] These are some loaded words, but I think they touch on something deeper than the obvious power play.  Men are dying to break out of their mundane lives and do something extraordinary. 

Fantasy Football is a safe outlet for a serious adrenaline rush.  It is modern warfare at home in front of the TV.  A guy can scream at the screen, take big risks with low-cost, and have a sense of control in a world where his job is uncertain or his kids are blowing out.  Every guy yearns for a sense of purpose, to be fully alive and to feel his heart pumping.  These are God-given desires, embedded in the male DNA…and while I don’t suggest trying to play God, I would suggest that God delights in men playing. 

So, enjoy the affirmation when you make a good trade, revel in your team’s domination and whine with other dudes when you’re running back tears an ACL. But, always be cautious of ad executives exploiting your childlike fun with promises to make you millions betting…and please, no matter how awesome your draft is, don’t quit your day job!

Article first published on Technorati, Oct 14, 2010


[1] Fantasy Sports Trade Assn.

[2] study conducted by outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas

[3] http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_38/b4195081511463.htm

[4] Jim Hurley’s Network  336 N. Broadway, suite 410., Jericho, NY 11753

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