By Matthew Romano
The following article is featured in the January 2020 special edition of The Campus, The Beaverbeat.
“Should I just drop Utley, he seems content with his .200 average”
How many jacks did Uggla hit last year? How many RBI’s?
“I offer a fair trade – he rejects and counters with this!? It’s like here, just give me your best player’s for absolute SH!T”
Want to do a mock draft and pizza tonight or not?
Most children’s memories of sports probably involve some combination of little league, throwing a baseball with Dad in the front lawn, and going to their first Yankee game. In my house, however, it was the exchanges above that formed my love of sports. Even before the young age of ten, I played my first fantasy baseball season. These phrases seemed to roll off the tongue, ricochet around the halls, down and upstairs, across rooms, between driver’s and passenger’s seats, while watching the game on TV, heck, even at the stadiums. This love of sports predominated my relationship with my father and even my father’s coworkers, although, it never included my friends. My peers were much more interested in watching the New York teams that I had been taught to despise by my Cowboy-watching, Red Sox-loving father. He despised the Yankees (and their broadcasters), was indifferent towards the struggling Mets (although, weirdly enough, liked David Wright), and taught me that the basics of football lie in Eli Manning’s genetic inferiority to his older brother Peyton (uncontestable, even to Giants fans).
What is fantasy sports, you ask? They are online games where you choose players from different sports teams (one fake team) and bet on real-life athletes to do well so you can win the most points, matches, and money. Slump? Sub-par year? Un-timely injury (*holds breath*)? They could all devastate your chances, ruin your entire fantasy season, rapidly humble your ego, and injure your wallet. If this “sport” sounds like a fringe, weird, lazy, maybe somewhat sick game, you are probably in the majority. That is exactly the reputation that the fantasy sports world earned during its embryonic stages. Today, however, fantasy is no longer an embryo, but a fully-grown being with a Tom Ford briefcase of statistical papers and contracts. Fantasy is sabermetric for a baseball team, wearing a poker-face and rivaling Phil Ivey’s (at least that’s how I imagine it).
Fantasy football was first designed in 1962 by a disgruntled Raiders-fan and the businessman Bill Winkenbach in NYC. Needing an outlet to make the tanking Raiders watchable, he and his friends chose players from the American Football League (AFL) and scored points for their team, commensurate and simultaneous with the players’ scoring in the real game. This early form of fantasy became the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticator League (GOPPPL for short-ish), the following year. Though there is evidence of the earliest forms of fantasy baseball from early-mid 1900s by On the Road novelist John Kerouac and “Baseball Seminars,” most deem Daniel Okrent as the founding father of fantasy baseball and its “Rotisserie” (not the chicken) scoring system at the La Rotisserie Française (a restaurant, not a pricey French call-girl).
Fantasy sports have since risen out of these humble beginnings and energized a community of what is now well over sixty million fantasy “managers” around the world. Today, it is a multi-billion-dollar industry that has redefined sports media on TV networks and internet sites such as Disney’s ESPN, DirecTV, the Fantasy Sports Network, Yahoo, and CBS. It even inspired a sitcom on FX called “The League.” It is also constantly changing and evolving; FanDuel (started in 2009) and Draft Kings (2012), two multi-million dollar daily fantasy sites, have taken the world (not just the fantasy one) and their wallets by storm, awarding 90% of their profits as daily prizes for fantasy performance.
No longer just another odd and confusing internet game for a few old men, lazy teens, and women who join “to impress their fantasy-playing husbands” as they say, huh. Statistics taken from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association show that of the now over 59.3 million people known to play fantasy sports in North America alone, 71% are Men, 29% are women (such as many of my high-school teachers who formed fantasy leagues, discussed with me between classes, and sought my not-quite “professional” counsel), and 48% are between the ages of 18-34. All this activity reaps a 7.2-billion-dollar economic impact.
Fantasy sports have also transcended just the world of “sports,” pervading many realms of popular culture. Reality TV such as The Bachelor (will your prize-pick girl get the final rose?) and The Real Housewives (the fights, the drinks, the drinks thrown, oh, all the points!) now have fantasy games as well. You can even play one where you earn points for picking which celebrities will appear on the most tabloids (you lose points if they do something bad). Political science major? Well, the wide world of fantasy even has something for you: introducing, Fantasy Congress. Draft real-life congressmen and women and earn points for bills they draft, votes they cast, or speeches they make (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has GOT to be winning somebody out there a season, come on).
Which fantasy game will you play? What will you ‘fantasize’ next? (see Fantasizr.com) How will it change your conversations? How will those conversations change the world?