The Fantasy Sports Boom

Its past, present, future and why you should try it

Collage by Malu Geyerhahn

Collage by Malu Geyerhahn

If you’re a Graded student who’s into sports, chances are you’ve heard of the term “fantasy sports.” More so, if you have heard about it, you’ve likely played it at some point in the past two years. 

In case you haven’t, fantasy sports are a type of game often played using the internet where participants assemble imaginary teams composed of proxies of real athletes of a professional sport, varying from individual sports such as tennis to team ones such as football. The assembled teams compete against each other based on the statistical performances of these players in actual games. Basically, it blends both the fantasy and real-life aspects of sports. 

Fantasy gives fans a whole new way of indulging in sports. It gives you the unique experience of being a general manager of sorts, bringing you from a passive standpoint to a more interactive one. Team owners have the power to draft, trade, and cut athletes analogously to their real-life performances. It forces you to know the strengths and weaknesses of specific players, their statistical trends, their consistency, and much more, essentially turning you from a fan to a student of the game. 

Surprisingly enough, the world of fantasy sports is not something new, as the concept has been around since the end of World War II. Though nowadays the game is notorious for being revolved around football, basketball, and soccer, it actually started as Fantasy Golf towards the end of the 1950s. Being an individual sport, golf was a simple fantasy game administration-wise since each fantasy participant was only concerned with the score of their team members. As the years passed, however, fantasy began to be seen in team sports as well, with fantasy baseball first being reported in 1960 and fantasy football in 1962. Back then, due to restrictions in communication and reach on a national scale, fantasy was an extremely local activity, but through technological developments and the creation of the internet in the ’90s, fantasy sports evolved into a whole new game

In 1995, American-Canadian beverage company Molson Breweries released a fantasy hockey website for Canadians, and for the first time in the history of the game, it allowed visitors from all over the country to register accounts and participate in unique hockey leagues of 9 teams each. This was the beginning of what ended up becoming a mass hysteria all throughout North America. With the addition of leagues such as the NBA (National Basketball Association) and the NFL (National Football League), by 1999, the US reported around 30 million people of ages 18 and older playing some sort of fantasy sport. 

Fast forward 20 years and we find ourselves in what I call the “Boom” of fantasy sports. In the past year, many sectors of the global economy have been shrinking and facing big demand/supply challenges, however, according to recent research from Sports Pro Media, the global fantasy sports market is expected to grow an impressive 10% from US$20.36 billion in 2020 to US$22.31 billion in 2021. This same study points out several reasons as to why this sudden rise has occurred: increase in youth population, growth in digital/internet infrastructure, availability of affordable smartphones, the increasing popularity of athletes worldwide, and the launch of various fantasy sports apps. 

In addition to all these factors, one could say the pandemic also played a pivotal role in this sudden increase. As people found themselves isolated in their own homes, fantasy games allowed individuals to either meet new people or stay connected to those they already knew who shared the same interests and passions. It was a way of staying close even while far apart. On top of that, with sports fans being denied the privilege of seeing their favorite athletes in person, fantasy allowed them to maintain engagement and be active within their sports community. This would prove to be beneficial both ways, as not only fans got to proactively keep up with their favorite sports but teams and athletes were able to maintain consistent engagement with their fan bases all throughout the lockdown.

Overall, the future looks very bright for the fantasy sports industry. Even as stadiums begin to re-open and life slowly returns to normal, the opportunity of conjoining sports and their fans in this way is here to stay. This ever-growing economic sector creates great publicity, providing visibility to country-specific sports, leagues, and athletes altogether. Furthermore, the potential fantasy sports has in terms of engagement for athletes and teams is limitless, giving them more brand partnerships and business opportunities than ever.

How does this impact the Graded community? Besides all the pros already mentioned in terms of interconnection among those with similar interests, one can argue that fantasy sports prepare students for life in college and beyond. It increases team-building abilities through drafts while also promoting quick decision-making and better time management through harsh deadlines, all crucial skills that Graded students need. But more importantly, it helps one transform data into insights. By utilizing research, trends, and tendencies, one can create strategies and make smarter decisions in order to be successful.

Even if you’re not the biggest sports fan, why not give it a go? Instead of seeing it as a mere sports game, see it as a strategic skill-developing activity, which helps strengthen/build new connections and absorb knowledge along the way.