Internet turns fantasy football into big business
August 28, 2005
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Greg Ambrosius is used to fielding questions about San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson, but not from fans 7,000 miles outside of San Diego.
“But now I have e-mails from guys all over the world asking about certain players, wanting to know if I have any tips,” said Ambrosius, president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
“And they’re not fantasy 101 questions either. These guys have obviously done their homework.”
Ten years ago, fantasy sports – creating dream teams of players and following their statistics throughout the season – was relegated to hardcore fans with the patience to sort through newspaper clippings for box scores.
But Ambrosius said the Internet has opened the hobby to even casual sports fans, giving them near-instant access to every touchdown and spawning thousands of sites on which they can compete.
The association estimates that about 15 million Americans played fantasy sports last year, and more than 12 million of them had a fantasy football team.
Finances for the industry are harder to track, since much of the money is exchanged under the table. Ambrosius estimates that fantasy leagues awarded more than $150 million in prizes last year, not including entry fees.
“It’s just a huge pool of money,” he said. “And it’s only going to get bigger and bigger.”
And the building audience has rushed the hobby from cyberspace to the mainstream.
USA Today runs regular fantasy columns on players to watch and teams to ignore. ESPN recently held a 90-minute special devoted solely to fantasy football draft strategy. And Sprint announced plans to provide exclusive NFL content, including fantasy team updates, on its mobile phone network.
Both Navy and Army Morale, Welfare and Recreation are offering their own fantasy games this football season, with cash prizes for the top players. The Navy offerings are available online: The Army games are only available at MWR kiosks, but officials hope to expand it next year.
“(The soldiers) told us that when we create an event for them to compete in, they love it,” said Kristen Kea, spokeswoman for the Army MWR Community and Family Support Center.
Ambrosius said most of the fans he speaks with tell him the cash prizes are an incentive to participate, but not their main reason for playing.
“It’s another way for keeping ties with friends,” he said. “And for the people overseas, that’s really more important.
“If that’s what’s coming, that’s great. Anything that keeps their fascination with fantasy games is a good thing.”