Fantasy sports is no longer a typical hobby

BY: COLE HUGHEY 

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Fantasy sports are getting big. As in, over a billion dollars big. By 2017, the fantasy industry is forecasted to earn more than $1.7 billion in revenue, according to industry analysts IBIS World.

Last year an estimated 35 million people played fantasy sports, a number that is expected to grow almost nine percent annually over the next five years.

Fantasy sports is no longer a casual pastime for the serious sports fans, fantasy sports have taken a hold of mainstream society and are setting an unprecedented standard in professional sports.

With the help of the new digital age, fans everywhere have round-the-clock access to all things sports, and fantasy football, along with fantasy baseball and basketball and its becoming the staple of their diets.

There are websites, smartphone applications, television shows, podcasts and blogs that are devoted purely to fantasy player analysis, just as there are online databases which keep the statistics of virtually every player to ever step foot in an arena. As the popularity of fantasy sports continues to rise, the demand for sports information has never been higher.

Not everyone favors this constant feed of information, however.

“I feel like he gets absorbed in it,” says Brie Padilla, a 25-year-old makeup artist from Huntington Beach, about her boyfriend’s fantasy football league. “It’s like every spare second he’s on his phone looking at fantasy stuff. You’d think he knows everything by now.”

Playing a fantasy sport starts by joining one of various online leagues, which are hosted by mainstay sports media outlets: ESPN, Yahoo, CBS Sports and Fox Sports. All offer platforms to play the game, as well as the advice, predictions, and analysis necessary to succeed in competition.

You can choose to start a private, customized league with friends or coworkers, or you can choose from one of thousands of standardized public leagues. From there you will pick a name, create your team, and fill your roster via a draft of available players. It is then up to you to decide who starts and sits, who to trade and who to cut as the season goes on; thus warranting the title of manager.

With players often getting hurt, demoted or promoted throughout the season, league activity is frequent and fast paced. If you miss breaking news about a certain player, chances are you’ll be beat to the punch by someone else in your league that is league-savvy enough to make the move. With this inherent need for constant information, advertisers are cashing in on the heavy online traffic that fantasy news is generating.

Premium leagues may charge a league entry fee, most providers, such as Yahoo and ESPN, allow users to play their fantasy games for free. In fact, the only thing most of these users are paying for are their league’s own self-imposed fees, creating a pool of reward money for the victor.

By providing a free platform for users to play on, the belief is that people will be more ampt to join the growing fantasy trend. With the average fantasy sports fan spending three to eight hours a week playing, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Commission, more users will only increase the already heavy online traffic. More and more advertisements are being exposed to an increasing amount of people, causing revenue to soar.

Some providers hold a different belief in how to best maximize their profits. CBS chooses to ignore competitor’s free services and charge a fee of up to $180 to start a customizable league. By doing this, CBS considers their site to be appealing to “high end” customers, which in turn, creates an appeal for advertisers in search of higher earning consumers. CBS holds firm in its perceived success of this strategy, having sold out of its fantasy football advertisement inventory for the past three years.

Perhaps most striking about the growing industry is how fans attitudes and passions are changing toward the sports themselves.  Today’s fans may have a vested interest in several players playing for different teams who all hold relevance to their virtual teams.

A rival wide receiver might get a touchdown that gives you the win, causing you to cheer for what once made you cringe. Likewise, if a player on your favorite team scores three touchdowns, you might actually be disappointed if you’re playing someone who started him against you.

Billy Cook, a 26-year-old student teacher and avid fantasy football enthusiast from Rocklin, talks about how his interests in football have changed since he started playing fantasy:

“Before I started (fantasy football), all I cared about was if the (Oakland) Raiders won or not. Now, although I still root for them to win, I’m more worried about how my players are doing than the outcomes of the games themselves.”

Fantasy sports are a growing trend that is showing no sign of slowing down. It is a phenomenon, a spiraling new business, which has reshaped the motives behind the fan.

Like it or not, the new age of sports fans are here and the world of business has taken notice.