Fantasy sports have actually been around in some form since the 1960’s when members of the Oakland Raiders ownership and staff invented fantasy football. The game gradually spread and increased in popularity, expanding into other sports with baseball being the most widely played by Americans. The first public fantasy league was introduced in 1969 by bar owner, and member of the original Raiders fantasy football league, Andy Mousalimas. As technological advances have made communication and access to public leagues and information easier through the years, fantasy sports have taken off and become an online giant. The advent of social media, and then the creation of daily fantasy sports, hugely boosted the game in the 2000’s and into the 2010’s, and now millions of people play and bet on fantasy sports every day.
Sports fans and fantasy enthusiasts in the US have a wide array of options when choosing which fantasy sports games they want to play. Fantasy NFL is the most popular, with over 78% of the massive 45.9 million people that play fantasy sports in the US taking part in fantasy football. Fantasy baseball is the second most popular game, with 39% of fantasy players playing it, whilst fantasy basketball, ice hockey and soccer are all available to play too. Fantasy NBA has worldwide appeal too, but it is no surprise that football is king when it comes to the world of fantasy sports, as it is in viewership and tv ratings too. Fantasy football is far and away the most popular game amongst fantasy sports players, largely because the NFL is the most popular and most watched of the big four sports in the US. NFL ratings consistently dominate almost everything else on television, with 15.4 million people on average tuning in to an NFL game in 2020, and 96.4 million watched the Super Bowl. Comparatively, NBA finals games averaged just 7.5 million viewers in 2020, showing the huge gap in popularity between two of America’s biggest sports. This certainly translates to fantasy players too, and the NFL and it’s broadcasting partners have also helped to pull in more viewers by appealing to fantasy players.
Broadcasters often have fantasy experts on board to do a segment on fantasy football before and during games, whilst the NFL Red Zone channel, which came out in 2009, is specifically designed for fantasy players to be able to watch solely scoring plays that impact their team’s performance. Daily fantasy games and the link to sports betting has also enhanced playing numbers and viewing numbers in turn for the NFL side as bettors can bet both on the outcome of games and on daily fantasy contests. The availability of different fantasy leagues these days also makes it extremely easy for players to sign up to leagues with one or multiple websites, and participate in whichever type of game they prefer from daily games, to full season leagues with drafts. The popularity of the NFL means that fantasy players are very familiar with watching players on a weekly basis, so when it comes to playing fantasy football, they feel as though they know which players to pick in order to win their league.
Fantasy baseball and NBA lag far behind the NFL in playing numbers but still attract millions of players per year, and the same skills are required to succeed in these versions of the game as in fantasy football. Baseball in particular lends towards those that take a keen interest in statistical analysis due to the range of situational stats that make big differences in the game, and thus drafting teams is a difficult skill that takes time to perfect. The players that put time and research into their fantasy teams can now be very profitable from them, particularly due to the array of daily fantasy contests that are available these days. The long baseball and basketball seasons lend well to this format of fantasy sports, as players can play games every night of the week during the season, giving them more chances to win and make money compared to the short NFL season.
The growth of fantasy sports through the years has been phenomenal, and there is no sign that it will slow down any time soon with more and more games available for players, and increasingly more money available to win too. Fantasy NFL will undoubtedly continue to be the most popular over baseball and basketball too, as the NFL is being consumed by more people around the world than ever, and continues to crush the other big four sports in television ratings. Daily fantasy games and the chance to win money playing and betting on fantasy sports is another reason that the game is only likely to continue to grow at a rapid rate as gambling becomes legal in more states across the US. This will bring more new fantasy players to the game from the betting world and again, this will benefit fantasy NFL due to the enormous betting interest in the league. Fantasy sports shows and podcasts are also becoming more popular and widely available, so the reach of the game is larger than ever today and media personalities in the fantasy world are becoming stars in their own right with the ability to influence players and bring in new fans.