As the NFL season kicked off this past Thursday, fantasy football leagues everywhere also began their highly-anticipated seasons. With online drafts completed, waiver wires explored and starting lineups set, fantasy experts and casual fans alike tuned in to see their lineups perform.
Fantasy sports have seen an increase in participation over the past decade, as technology and digitization have taken over both social interaction and sports culture. The industry itself has even become a topic of controversy, with some arguing it relies more on luck than skill, qualifying it thus as a form of gambling, but that is another story for a different day.
Fantasy football is easily the most popular form of fantasy sports among the four major sports leagues in the United States. Magazines, radio and television programs and other forms of media have devoted countless resources to it as it has exploded in recent years. In 2015, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimated that over 57 million people age 12 and above would play fantasy football, up from about 13 million in 2005, with a large portion of those people competing with multiple teams in different leagues.
This is terrific news for the NFL. Fantasy football generates more interest in its product from casual fans because it gives them more of a rooting interest in its brightest stars, causing them to watch games, purchase merchandise and become bigger fans.
However, while the NFL profits from fantasy football, the participants do not.
I play fantasy football every year, and this year I have three teams to track each week to try and beat my friends and colleagues. Despite this, I feel an increased sense of my fandom being torn apart.
As a Massachusetts native, I am a huge New England Patriots fan. I take great pleasure in the team’s wins and great pain in its losses, and I follow its every transaction, news alert, star player and, of course, game. While I may have the Patriot’s defense on my fantasy team, I still am presented with a conflict when I tune in to their game on Sunday.
Even though I want the best for the Patriots, I also want the best for my fantasy team. For instance, when the Patriots play the Pittsburgh Steelers – one of their fiercest challengers in the AFC – I cheer every positive play the Pats make and want them to keep the Steelers to the fewest possible points, however I also root for the Steelers’ Antonio Brown, a wide receiver in my fantasy lineup, to grab several receptions, rack up yardage and find the end zone so that my fantasy team benefits.
This contradiction, in my opinion, severely damages my experience as a fan, and causes fans of the NFL to lose their convictions in their team in order to fulfill meaningless desires in a fantasy world.
Therefore, while fantasy football is fun to partake in, it is ultimately a frivolous activity that tends to damage the fandom and experience of NFL supporters everywhere, leaving the conclusion that maybe fantasy football is not so fantastic after all.