With over 27 million people poised to play fantasy football this season, it is worth a look at the meteoric rise of the game’s popularity, the business implications of a product with such a diverse user base, and the future potential of fantasy sports as a marketing vehicle. To put the game’s popularity into perspective, nearly 10% of all Americans play in at least one fantasy football league. This is also more than ten times the number of projected 2010 sales of perhaps the most popular new product today, the Apple iPad1.
How did we get here? Believe it or not, the origins of fantasy football can be traced all the way back to 19622. Even more unbelievable, the idea came from executives of the Oakland Raiders – this has to be the Raider franchise’s greatest contribution to humankind, bar none. It wasn’t until 1989 though, that the game really became public when the Wakeman and deForest ad agency created the Pigskin Playoff contest that ran in major newspapers coast to coast including the LA Times and the Chicago Sun Times. Then the Internet boom in the late 1990’s sent fantasy football into the stratosphere, being run on several major sites including Yahoo!, ESPN, and NFL.com, just to name a few.
What are the implications? Fantasy football is no longer just for the most avid football fans. These days, those fans’ girlfriends and even grandmother’s are getting in on the action. Combine this diverse audience with the fact that the average fantasy player spends 9+ hours managing their team each week, and it’s clear to see that businesses of all types should be targeting these fantasy team “owners”. Fantasy football is already an $800 million dollar a year industry3. Countless businesses have popped up in an effort to grab their piece of the pie – the craziest I have heard of is an actual business that insures your fantasy players should they suffer a Tom Brady-circa-2008 fate or to protect the person who drafts Brett Favre as their starting QB the year that he actually decides to retire. Other businesses are working to make fantasy football a very real part of their strategies. A great example of this is restaurant chains including Buffalo Wild Wings, Hooters, and Dave & Buster’s working to entice players to conduct their annual draft parties at their bars in exchange for food and drink specials, gift cards, and other promotions.
So what’s next? Wednesday, I jokingly shared a Vitamin Water viral video that depicts the world’s first fantasy football lawyer trying to stand up for the fantasy rights of his client, Adrian Peterson. Since then, I have found an actual live business, FantasyDispute.com, that settles fantasy disputes for $14.95. I think the key point here is, anything is possible from a business perspective when people are trying to attach themselves to a product with such extraordinary popularity. In these times of information overload, fantasy football has emerged as one of the last remaining products that delivers true engagement from its users. This fantasy season, keep an eye on how sponsors are working to grab your attention and businesses are working to earn your dollars related to fantasy football.
Do you have ideas for what you would like see next in the world of fantasy football business or have you seen an activation that you thought was really great? Please share it below.
Ryan Sleeper+, Online Sports Marketing Guy
1 Needham: 2 million iPads in 2010, 6 million in 2011
2 Fantasy Football: Craze’s roots go back to Oakland
3Fantasy Football Is An $800 Million Industry, But Who’s Profiting?