It is my favorite time of year. Nope, it is not because the pumpkin-flavored spiced mochaccino is back or even going to the bosque or Fourth of July canyon to look at the leaves change colors.
Fantasy football time is in full swing and as I mentioned in my introduction when I first started here at the Valencia County News-Bulletin, I want everyone to play.
I caught the fantasy sports bug more than 10 years ago when I first joined my first fantasy football league and still play in that league today. This year I am in five football leagues and two baseball leagues. Odds are I’m not the only fanatic you know of who spends time daily thinking about fantasy sports.
Here are some fun facts about fantasy sports that I thought were interesting.
According to the Fantasy Sports and Gaming Association, in 2022 there were about 62.5 million people in the U.S. and Canada playing fantasy sports. That is about 19 percent of Americans 18 and older who play some kind of fantasy sport, and four out of five people who play fantasy are men.
It’s amazing to see how many people are playing fantasy sports these days, and the industry continues to grow exponentially. In 1988, there were only 500,000 players, but that number has doubled about every ten years.
Fantasy sports are a big money maker for the economy, too. The FSGA estimates that fantasy sports contribute $7.22 billion to the US economy yearly. The average fantasy sports player older than the age of 18 spends $653 annually on games and related expenses. Not me though, my wife would kill me if I spent that much.
Since so much money is spent on fantasy sports, people like to equate it with gambling, but proponents of fantasy gaming disagree. They say that fantasy sports, unlike gambling, is a game of skill so they should not be in the same legal category.
“I’ve always said, fantasy football players are the kind of people who sit on the toilet reading the back of the shampoo bottle, that was before there were phones. They’re information junkies,” said Bob Harris, the senior editor of FootballDiehards.com, host of SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and an inductee of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association Hall of Fame, for a podcast I made for a class in college in 2019.
Fantasy sports have been around longer than most people may think. An Oakland, Calif., area businessman by the name of Wilfred “Bill” Winkenbach came up with the first versions of three different fantasy sports games. He started golf in the mid-1950s, baseball in around 1960 and football in 1963. Winkenbach organized the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League, which is considered the first fantasy football game.
The people who played in the league were affiliated with the Oakland Raiders; they started playing during the long periods of off time while the team was traveling for road games.
“The more things change the more they stay the same,” said Harris of the GOPPPL. “They just wanted bragging rights; they talked the same kind of smack [as today].”
He started a baseball game called The Superior Tile Summer Invitational Home Run Tourney, but it was a man named Dan Okrent in 1979 that fantasy baseball is credited to.
Okret’s game was called the Rotisserie League and Rotisserie is still the term used today for certain types of fantasy baseball leagues.
Fantasy sports are no longer limited to analytical nerds and are popular among people of all types. If someone invites you to join a league, take a chance and give it a shot.
Harris said it well, “To me, it’s just an amazing example of what sports do to people, how it connects us socially and even more, you build friendships.”
Jesse Jones lives in Albuquerque with his wife and son. Jesse graduated from of the University of New Mexico twice. This spring, he graduated with a degree in multimedia journalism and, in 2006, he received a bachelor’s degree in university studies with an emphasis in photojournalism. He is a current fellow of the New Mexico Local News Fund.