After a whirlwind of a Saturday afternoon filled with a Michigan Wolverine win (see my opinions on that program at The Fortuna of Michigan Football – Alex Dolik), I could not have wanted Sunday to come anymore than Daylight savings time could take it. No I am not talking about having to go to the library to write this blog post, what I am talking about of course is Fantasy Football!
The ritual of waking up at 11 AM on a Sunday Morning throwing the TV on to Fantasy Football Now on ESPN and grabbing your laptop to tinker, mold, and solidify your “Lineup” for the week is one enjoyed by millions of “fans” (men and women) across the entire country. According to Fantasy Facts, 26 Million Americans participated in Fantasy Football in 2013. The rise and emergence of Fantasy Sports and Fantasy Football specifically have drastically changed the landscape of professional sports. Fantasy Sports is a Multi-Billion dollar industry in which major industry players such as ESPN and CBS have targeted exactly the competitive nature of its fans. Using shows such as NFL Redzone, Fans can track their respective players “days” instantaneously. Fantasy Football has created the act of following a sport, an actual “sport” filled with just as much vicarious competition as the normal playing field presents the physicality.
These thoughts crept into my mind as I was reading over Eric Dunning’s article “The Dynamics of Modern Sport: Notes on Achievement-Striving and the Social Significance of Sport”. Why do I spend almost my entire Sunday devoted to this mindless game? Why does the average fantasy football player spend 3 hours a week managing their respective teams? Dunning defines the emergence of modern sport as being molded from
“a marginal, lowly valued institution into one that is central and much more highly valued, an institution which, for many people, seems to have religious or quasi-religious significance in the sense that it has become one of central, if not the central, sources of identification, meaning and gratification in their lives.”
While this phenomena could illustrate any modern “sport”, it specifically outlines the obsession so many have over Fantasy Football. Fantasy Football has transformed from a game started by a managing partner of the Oakland Raiders in 1969 to a multi billion dollar industry. The “religious significance” in Fantasy Football is clearly apparent whenever editing ones lineup. Speaking from experience, I once was facing an opponent who chose to start Frank Gore based on a dream he had the night before. Gore ended up running for 2 touchdowns beating my team by 5 points. Trust me folks, I don’t make this stuff up. In the TV Show The League, the participants of the Fantasy Football Group worship a trophy called “The Shiva” often praying and committing sacrifices for the trophy that has dominated every facet of their lives.
Dunning outlines sports groups specifically as a form of “pleasure” for the participants giving them a relief from their outside lives. According to Dunning, Sport originated as an out for work by the elite British royalty. Fantasy Football is just an extension of this phenomena. According to the Elite Daily article linked above, Fantasy Football cost employers $13 Billion in productivity for the 2013-2014 season. Fantasy more so than actual sport can actually be performed AT work/school illustrating Dunning’s description of sport groups perfectly as a means of pleasure.
While pleasure and religious significance play a large role, I believe the main reason humans participate in Fantasy Football and sports groups in general is social belonging. As Dunning states in the definition above, Modern sport has transformed itself into possibly the central source of identification in human life. According to Dunning, one of the main points that many neglect to think about is the relationships people develop when participating in sport. As a Sport Management Major, the basis of the socializing aspect of modern sport lies in Social Identity Theory. Social Identity Theory states that people choose certain groups or organizations as a means of maintaining/boosting ones self esteem. Having the affiliation and association with a certain group or team allows the individual to be apart of something bigger than themselves, and Fantasy Football allows for the perfect platform. The online fantasy group filled with message boards and player to player communication allows for the listless Fan without athletic capabilities to actually be apart of Professional football a place to belong.
According to the Elite Daily article linked above, 20% of all Fantasy Football players are Women. So while that is a small percentage, it means that their is a large amount of women that are interested in Football as a sport. Fantasy Football allows for gender equality in a sport dominated by Men filled with interest from the opposite sex. According to Mika Lavaque-Manty in his chapter “Being a Woman and Other Disabilities”, Women while on the outside may seem like they perform “lesser”, they actually in many cases are better, just their are not enough platforms that exist to prove it. Fantasy Football has created the perfect platform for women to express their interests in football on a level playing field.
So the next time you see the person sitting next to you in lecture hall looking at Ryan Fitzpatrick’s 4th quarter stats, remember the power that Fantasy Football truly holds on today’s society and withhold your premature judgements.