Betting has always affected the way people watch sports. As a fan, there is never a question of which team you are cheering for—you have your team and regardless of how the odds are stacked against them, you cheer on anyway. As a gambler, it is different—you decide game by game on whom to root for based on statistics, tangibles, and intangibles that will affect the outcome of the game. It isn’t about whom you would rather have win; it’s about wining the bet and walking away with the money.
Somewhere in the middle, there are those occasions when your heart and your brain aren’t speaking to one another. How many times have you ever caught yourself saying, “Well, I’m cheering for X team; but if I were a betting man, I would have to take Y.”
Betting on sports has been around for almost a century though, (even longer if we relegate it to horse racing only). More recently, however, there has been another, different phenomenon that has changed the way many of us watch sports – Fantasy Leagues.
Aussie David Genford, an AFL fan, took time to consider how Fantasy Leagues can make a sport much more exciting to watch despite the closeness between the two scores or personal tie to any team in particular; “Not only do you watch games you never used to want to watch, but you also continue watching games that are no longer a contest. It no longer matters who wins, it’s about how many points your players will score in the final minutes. Another example is when a team chooses to wind down the clock. Previously this was tedious and boring, now it’s either excruciating or the best thing in the world.” I think Genford is accurate when he outlines the benefits Fantasy Leagues have brought to watching. Aside from the obvious excitement of seeing career-day personal performances by individual athletes comes the immeasurable pleasure of making the right decisions about your own “team” to earn you bragging rights over your competing friends.
It’s all not glory and boasting though. In order to put yourself in a position to win the grand prize of any Fantasy League, you have to do your research. There are some participants out there who sign up to leagues and never take it that seriously—drafting players one night of the year based on who they have heard a lot of hype about in the sports media and then never really applying any real strategy or midseason shuffling to make sure they field the best team each week. Others will go at Fantasy Leagues like a professional scouting manager—reading injury and health reports daily, making sure to know the weather and home field advantage of each game one of their players is in and badgering colleagues to always be trading, buying and selling players. For the former, Fantasy League is passive addition to the enjoyment sports brings. To the latter, it becomes an obsessive daily ritual leading much more to the feeling of a “real fantasy” as the owner of a professional team.
As different as these two types of Fantasy Leaguers are, they share in common that they most likely watch the game differently than if they were not a player at all. This past August, the website KSL.com opened a forum in their Tech and Gadgets page to hear users’ own reactions to Fantasy Football (by far, the most popular of the Fantasy sports in North America). Here are the arguments of two opposing leaguers:
Accord_93: “I did fantasy football for 6 years. ([It] was really one of the best ways to stay connected to “the guys” for an early-30’s working dad). This is my 3rd year without it in my life. I’ve never enjoyed the NFL more since I kicked the fantasy game to the curb (and I did do well in the fantasy leagues). I just saw how it skewed my loyalties to a few of the teams I like and it sucked way too much time from my schedule.”
Cankerpuss: “Fantasy Football is a hoot. I love it. I only have to set my roster once a week and about 15 minutes is all it takes. It’s fun to examine the players and have an interest in a game involving two teams in which I typically would not have any interest. Fantasy Football has also piqued the football interest of my wife who, prior to FF, did not understand football and would not watch it. Now we watch football together and have fun competing against each other and other teams.”
Like all facets to the sporting world, Fantasy Leagues bring our personal opinion, debate and even argument. There are going to be those who love it, and there will be those who think it has ruined the game. For those in the Accord_93 corner, fantasy leagues suck the joy out of rooting for one team, relaxed watching and the pleasure one derives from the simplicity of Sunday football when you want nothing more but two teams to take your mind off the world for a couple of hours. Cankerpuss supporters find their thrill in being as involved as possible and taking an active role in their Sunday pastime with the feeling they themselves are making the decisions to the outcome of their day (in terms of success and failure).
Regardless of which camp you sit in, there is little doubt that Fantasy Leagues have changed the way a lot of people watch their favorite sport. Even the NFL package on DirecTV has continuous “fantasy player updates” during a full day of Sunday football and watching football with one of these league junkies can be an exhausting experience (constant channel-changing to follow individual performances over tight games). Either way, there is no arguing the success of so many fantasy leagues out there in a wide range of sports.