Fantasy Sports – The Birth and Death of Fan-hood As We Know It

By Patrick Carr

Where can you find millions of Americans on a Sunday afternoon during the heart of the NFL season? In front of a TV? At the stadium cheering on their favorite team? Outside, enjoying a nice fall day with their family? If you answered yes to any of these questions you’re right. But if you also thought “sitting in front of their computer or smart phone with their eyes glued to their fantasy scores,” you’re probably a little more accurate. Emphasis on the word scores, as nobody has just one fantasy team these days, I mean come on, it is the 21st century right?

Fantasy Football participation is at an all time high. It’s fun, it’s addictive, and the money can be great if you have a bit of wager in your blood. But it’s the bragging rights amongst your friends that really drives your passion as a fantasy owner. It’s about outsmarting your friends by drafting a fantasy sleeper like Ryan Matthews, or making a mid-week pick up of Doug Baldwin to fill in for an injured receiver. All fantasy owners of Baldwin know how smart they looked for making that pick up last week, and if you’re still not sure who Doug Baldwin is, your buddy has already picked him up. Sorry.

The NFL is at an all time high in ratings, merchandise sales, and overall fan support. The game withstood one of the ugliest lockouts this side of the NBA. It came back stronger, and with a bigger buzz than ever. These are all perks of the fantasy football world as we know it. NFL attendance is down going on four years in a row, prompting the NFL to require all teams to display fantasy football stats in the stadium at all times, in hopes of bringing the fans back from their computer desks, and into the stadiums.

There are many factors contributing to the growth of the NFL over the years, but I challenge you to find a bigger reason than Fantasy Football, an industry that has grown to roughly $3 billion dollars in annual revenue. The NFL has capitalized on the casual fan, the fan that cares more about statistics than the outcome of the game, the fan who doesn’t care who wins, as long as his “players” have a good game. This is the birth of Fan-hood as we know it.

But what about the game of football itself, the actual game being played on the field? Where has the relationship gone between fans and the game? Can a die-hard fan tell you the responsibility of the Defensive end in a 3-4 defense? Probably so. Can the casual fan who pays more attention to their fantasy score during the game answer that same question? Probably not. Does that make the die-hard football fan better than the die-hard fantasy fan? Can you be both? These are all questions that have no exact answer. Fandom is not an exact science, and that is what makes it great, but it has always been a topic up for debate and worth discussing.

The reality is no matter where, or how you watch the game moving forward, you will not be able to escape fantasy sports. Whether it’s your buddy sitting across the living room refreshing the matchup page every two minutes, or the guys sitting behind you in the stadium checking their Blackberrys more often than they check the score of the game they are actually there to watch, you can’t escape the new breed of fandom. This is the new age fan, the technological fan, the fan playing out their virtual “fantasy” of managing their own franchise.

Fantasy sports is business, a new kind of business that has formed bonds between middle-aged men all across the country. It’s big business, as shown by the focus it garners on television networks, websites, and the professional organizations themselves. Fantasy sports have paved the way for new followers to enjoy the game that all die-hard fans have loved for quite some time. It has also taken away from the beauty of the “game” itself. And this is the death of Fan-hood as we know it.

Follow Patrick on Twitter @patrickcarr24

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