Scandals aside, you can’t help but admire the National Football League. Supported by passionate fans, they dominate their TV time slots, prompt highly engaged social media activity and generate over $1 billion in merchandise sales. With a brand value exceeding $10 billion, dramatic, high-quality competition is the main event. However, the NFL has also nurtured its brand magnificently with strict usage guidelines and clever brand extensions. They have also enabled an addictive manner to expand interest beyond “your team” through fantasy football. So instead of planning your entire week around watching one game, you now have an excuse to spend Sundays watching football – and probably Monday and Thursday nights, too. According to NBC Sports Pro Football Talk, 34 of America’s 35-most watched fall 2013 TV shows were football games. If you’re in a fantasy league, you get it. And if you’re not, you probably have too much free time on your hands.
Fantasy football traces its roots to eight Oakland Raiders fans in 1963, but expanded very slowly due to the manual effort required to track the scoring. Fast-forward to the late 90s when the CBS launched a free fantasy website and then to 2010, when the NFL itself released an official fantasy site. Today roughly 33 million people spend hours refreshing their statistical capabilities by carefully managing a fantasy football team through the season. Trades, waiver claims, contemplating who to start or bench, and of course bragging when you’re winning – and quietly going off the grid when you’re losing – are all fantasy fan habits.
My team did well last year, and I will admit that I watched a lot more football, contributing to the NFL brand’s success. The 2015 season is young but I’ve already spent money on an official NFL jersey (Gronk, of course!), have tuned in to hours of game time and am fretting about my fantasy team. If you’re in a league, I wish you a winning season and let’s compare notes in February! (P.S. if you want more statistics, check out FiveThirtyEight’s “Complete History of the NFL” post.)