The story of a 26 year old adult male who pretends to be a football manager in his spare time
Every year, from September to December the American version of fantasy football takes over my life.
Around 27 million North Americans will spend between $600 million and $1 billion on fantasy football this season. Either buying “inside pro” information on the players and teams or gambling real money on the outcomes.
If you think that’s lame, it gets worse.
The American version of fantasy football has a lot of significant differences from the British version, which make it so much more addictive. The National Football League, aka NFL, is the most played fantasy sport, but there are also versions for basketball and baseball, among others.
Americans have a lot to learn from the British, like how to stop racists from standing for government.
However, they have perfected fantasy football and turned it into a billion-dollar industry.
At its core, fantasy football works the same in both versions. You select a team of real-life players, and when they perform certain actions on the pitch; like scoring a goal/touchdown, their managers get points. There are many ways that players can earn points, which are related to their positions.
Now you understand the basics, here are four reasons why things are better stateside. Hopefully you will gain a better understanding of my crippling addiction.
1. The Fantasy Football Draft
The British and American fantasy seasons start the same way:
- Chat shit to your mates about how you wrecked their terrible teams last season
- Make bold predictions of a repeat this year
- “Forget” to invite people who made the league worse last year
- Debate kicking out poor players – feel guilty – grudgingly let them stay
- Take The Simpsons approach to naming your team
- Select your players a couple of weeks before the season starts
This is an important way the two versions differ.
In the Premier League version, there is no cap on how often a player can appear within a league. In my experience, pretty much everyone winds up having the same strikers. So when a highly owned player like Sergio Agüero scores a hattrick, everyone gets the same points for it, removing an element of skill.
In NFL fantasy, each player can only appear once per league. So a draft is needed to decide who plays for what team.
Drafts occur in the real life versions of the Big Four professional American sports leagues [American football, baseball, basketball, ice hockey]. This is where teams can choose the best eligible college players to add to their team for the coming season.
American sports are weird, young players are primarily selected through the draft system. Usually, the teams that performed worst the previous season, get first choice of the best college players. This is to keep the league balanced and avoid a Manchester United in the 1990s scenario. Which is a pretty fucking Communist system.
Things can get pretty ridiculous, as bad teams are rewarded for their ineptitude. They get first dibs on potentially transcendent players like LeBron James. Basketball’s Philadelphia 76ers have been unashamedly and intentionally bad for the past three years, in order to draft the best college players.
It’s such an accepted part of American sport they even have a name for it. Tanking.
Other leagues, like the Premier League operate on a Capitalist model. The reward for monkeying around and losing games is getting your ass relegated to a lower division, and losing revenue.
Back to fantasy, player teams are also decided by the draft system. A couple of weeks before the season starts, the managers gather at someone’s house, drink beer and select their players for the season. As you would imagine japery is at an all-time high in these sessions.
2. Your Fantasy Squad Feels Like a Team
Because each team is unique, it creates a false sense of reality.
Example. For the past three years I have drafted Miami Dolphins’ running back Arian Foster. If I ever met him I’d probably thank him for helping my imaginary team reach the fake playoffs each season.
He wouldn’t care.
The fun from NFL fantasy comes from each player having a unique team that they maintain throughout the year. There are all sorts of transactions that take place.
The pool of undrafted players can be claimed and added to your team. This is where the league is won. You must constantly monitor these guys and add the best ones before someone else does.
You can trade with the other teams, which adds another layer of hilarity.
Here’s a typical week in the life of my team:
Give a WhatsApp press conference to the other suckers in the league about your prowess. Read like 5 articles about who’s available in free agency.
Start anxiously deliberating over who to start this weekend.
Take at least 3 toilet breaks at work just to tinker with your lineup.
I'm starting to have doubts about Eddie Lacy this season.
— Jack the Scrivener (@JackKavanagh) September 25, 2016
[First Game Takes Place] Friday
Wake up to the aftermath of the horror of the first game. Decide your team is shit and you need to re-pick them all.
Get drunk to forget that you’re running your team into the ground
Kelvin Benjamin and Julius Thomas need to get me those #FantasyFootball points today
Can't beat @mitchdeeming with double zeroes
— Jack the Scrivener (@JackKavanagh) September 25, 2016
Suddenly remember that 6pm is the deadline for finalising the team before the Sunday games. Scour Twitter and the internet for advice on who to start.
[Most of the Week’s Games Take Place] Monday
Wake up to see your team has taken a hellacious spanking. Things are worse than you originally thought.
Luckily there’s another game on Monday night, so there is a slither of hope of victory. Spend all day thinking about your final players to play. Hope they won’t fuck you over.
[Final game is played]
— Jack the Scrivener (@JackKavanagh) September 13, 2016
Conclude that your team is terrible and you are investing waaay too much emotion in imaginary football.
Realise that your team needs you and can’t give up on them. Time to get ready for next week.
As you can see from the above, I clearly have no life. For regular visitors to this website, this shouldn’t come as news.
Here’s a typical week in Premier League fantasy football:
Check your team and how they did over the weekend.
Go to work. Function like a normal adult.
Add players to your team before the games start. Feel happy when your players do stuff.
Rinse and repeat
3. Fantasy Scoring is Head to Head
The real genius of fantasy football is the scoring system. In the UK version, players collect points and the season-total points determines the standings. Oftentimes
people I lose interest by December because I’m like 100 points off the top.
NFL fantasy is head to head. Each week you play someone from your league, whoever gets most points wins. League standings are based on wins and losses. You know, like how a real league works.
Towards the end of the season, the top 4-6 players are involved in a series of playoff games to determine the league champion.
This system keeps interest going throughout the season, because each week you are directly competing with your friends.
It creates rivalries and encourages atrocious levels of shit talking. Which is so much better than a slog to accumulate the most points over 9 months.
4. Fantasy Football Is So Good You Can Gamble
Fantasy football is gambling. You pick a team of players you expect to perform certain actions in a given week and wager you reputation on them. Get it wrong and face ridicule from your friends.
This model works so well that DraftKings and FanDuel have popularised a gambling version of fantasy sports. The same rules apply, but each manager chooses a team of players for one day only and bets money on their performance.
The fantasy football formula is so good these companies only added money to the game to make it different.
Fantasy football is popular in America because gambling is illegal in most states. Such an elaborate game would not have emerged if people could walk into a betting shop and wager on sports.
Currently, daily fantasy sports are legal in 38 of 50 American states, despite gambling being widely illegal. Due to the companies legally disputing whether they are a game of chance or skill. Despite the fact that you are wagering money on the outcome of a sporting contest. Which sounds like gambling to me.
At the start of the 2015 NFL season, DraftKings and FanDuel pumped $107 million into network advertising in the USA; on the major broadcasters who showed the games and the NFL Network.
“DraftKings ads have aired a skull-clutching 16,259 times over the course of the month, which works out to 135 hours and 25 minutes of 30-second spots.”
Why the NFL’s equivalent of Sky Sports News is getting into bed with a betting companies is a whole different story. FanDuel has also signed “multi-year sponsorship agreements” with 15 NFL franchises.
I’ve shown the good side of America fantasy sports, but there is also a significant downside.
Fantasy Sports Are Too Addictive
The whole of North America seems addicted to these sports, and it changes the way you watch the games.
Fantasy football is huge in America. Below is the homepage for the NFL website, on the first tab is a link to the official fantasy league of the league. Ahead of more important real-life things like scores, schedules and standings.
It features daily contribution from a number of “Fantasy Expert” writers.
These guys write about the sport from a fantasy perspective, for losers like me to digest. With a focus on how the player performed in terms of points, instead of the important thing – whether his team won or lost.
There are comparisons to help people make up their mind based on fantasy metrics:
Our fantasy lives depend on these noble gentlemen. Nevertheless, it is jarring to see a team sport being boiled down to individual’s performances and minimal context for their teams.
“Hey, great game last week.”
“Yeah, but we lost.”
“But you threw five touchdowns, and that’s all I need from you.” – Peyton Manning, retired quarterback
This culture impacts enjoyment of the game. Each week I tune in to the NFL, with the hope of seeing my players earn me points. Oftentimes I am conflicted when the team I support faces an opponent featuring one of my fantasy guys. Do I want the Pittsburgh Steelers to win? Or my fantasy team? The answer is both.
It comes as a relief when the fantasy football season grinds to a halt and you can escape the mind-set and weekly emotional distress. I remember when I used to do constructive things with my time, like going outside and playing with my children.
But this is fantasy football son! The season is 3 weeks in. Without my managerial guidance the stirring team talks, my boys might not reach the playoffs.
I have learnt nothing.
Jack the Scrivener
Owner, president, and general manager of The Pain Train plc