Fantasy sports are nothing new, but the sheer popularity of fantasy sports in recent years is absolutely mind-boggling, to the unaware. Why would people engage in, let alone bet real money on fantasy sports matchups? In this article, we’re going to trace the history of fantasy football, and give some possibilities for where it all could be headed in the future.
The history of fantasy sports
Fantasy sports leagues can be traced back to the early 1960s. Bill Winkenbach, a minority owner in the and limited partner in the Oakland Raiders football team, came up with some ideas for fantasy football games. The Raiders had been performing extremely poorly, going 1-13 that season.
Bill, along with several other men involved in the Oakland Raiders, developed a rulebook for an 8-team fantasy league and called it the GOPPL (Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League). They held weekly meetings, and eventually, it started catching on with other people.
40 years later, with the advent of the internet, fantasy football (and other fantasy sports) really boomed. Around 1997, online fantasy games began to appear, hosted by numerous providers like CBS SportsLine and Yahoo. Over the next decade, millions of people would get into fantasy sports.
In fact, 2008 saw record growth according to FSGA figures, as the number of fantasy sports players jumped from 19 million to almost 30 million in 2008 alone. This was aided by smartphone technology, of course.
Daily fantasy sports go back to the 80s, but the online versions really ramped up popularity in 2009, such as those daily fantasy sports ran by FanDuel. Cash prizes and even betting on fantasy games became a legitimate thing, and fantasy leagues, while still a popular niche hobby, also started to become a legitimate form of gambling between enthusiasts.
In fact, while online casinos have long supported sports betting, some are going so far as to sponsor real sports teams, like Casumo who recently started sponsoring Reading FC. And while there are a lot of fantasy league betting websites, it’s not hard to imagine online casinos like Casumo, and others, opening the door to fantasy league betting in the very near future.
The appeal of fantasy football
One interesting thing is that fantasy sports increase viewership in live sports games. For example, the NFL (National Football League) in America strongly supports fantasy sports.
Research from FSGA shows that 64% of fantasy sports enthusiasts are watching live sports more than ever, because of their involvement in fantasy leagues. David Jurenka, the senior vice president of media for the NFL’s Los Angeles operation, clarifies it in this statement:
“If your team is 1-10 and yet your fantasy team is 10-1, I would argue you’re just as engaged […] if we can get someone to play fantasy, they are the most consumptive, engaged fans.”
Jason Robins, CEO of DraftKings, a popular daily fantasy sports website, also had this to say about why fantasy sports lend to increased viewership in live-action sports:
“The reason they’re watching is they want a rooting interest in the game. And if they have that rooting interest, that’s what makes it exciting for them. Fantasy took that core thing that people wanted and it expanded it from their hometown team or their favorite player’s team, to have a rooting interest in almost every game.”
It seems to make perfect sense. Fantasy sports leagues often base player statistics on their real-life performances, along with other metrics that can correspond to real life. So by watching real sports games more often, fantasy league players can make better draft picks and informed bets. It’s a win/win for both the fantasy league players, and the real sports leagues.
The possible future of fantasy football
Now that we know the how’s and the why’s of fantasy sports’ immense growth, let’s make some predictions for where it all could be headed. As we’ve seen, technology has helped tremendously in the popularity boom of fantasy sports, and that’s certainly going to continue.
As we mentioned earlier, online casinos are certainly being tempted with opening the doors to fantasy league betting. We’re also seeing incredibly realistic video game technology, with life-like graphics and physics. EA has used their UFC-based videogame, UFC 3, for ‘simulating’ the outcomes of real life fights before they take place. Out of 11 matchups, the video game correctly ‘predicted’ the fight outcomes in 5 fights.
Other sports video games, like FIFA 2019, can also be used for simulating fantasy-league matches between teams.
So overall, technology is definitely going to continue playing a role in increasing the popularity of fantasy sports.
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