How the rise of fantasy sports sites has changed how people watch sport

Fantasy sports sites and apps are a rapidly growing sector, with many regularly logging in to check their team and several companies emerging to cater to the new trend. The popularity of fantasy sports and the legalization of sports betting have together transformed sports fandom in the US, changing how people view sports and providing new opportunities for sport-related businesses.

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What are fantasy sports?

In fantasy sports, participants put together a virtual team of real players, taking on the role of the manager. In the US, the most popular fantasy sport is Fantasy Football, with baseball, basketball, and hockey also proving popular. But the industry goes beyond the most popular with other sports, including cricket, Aussie rules football and golf. Having put together a team, participants earn points based on the real-life performance of their players, so the better the player performs, the more fantasy points they earn for the team. As in real life, the manager plays against other managers and can trade or sell players to boost the performance of the fantasy team throughout the season.

For those who don’t want to commit to an entire season, there is also the option of daily fantasy sports. Following a similar pattern to standard fantasy sports, these are usually paid competitions played over a shorter period, such as a week or even a day.

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There are several fantasy sports sites and apps that enthusiasts can use, such as FanDuel and SuperDraft. Mainstream sports betting companies are also keen to cater to the popularity of fantasy sports, as demonstrated by the recent acquisition of fantasy sports company Monkey Knife Fight by land-based gaming and casino operator Bally’s Corporation. Monkey Knife Fight was founded in 2018 by entrepreneur Bill Asher and increased to become the third-largest Daily Fantasy Sports platform in the US, with 180,000 registered users and 80,000 depositing players across 37 states. 

What makes fantasy sports so popular?

Sports fans are often hugely knowledgeable about their sport. Watching sports and betting on the outcomes is a passive way to enjoy the sport, while fantasy sports allow the participants to take an active role that genuinely challenges their knowledge. 

There is also a hugely social aspect to fantasy sports as families, friends, and colleagues can set up their leagues with all the friendly rivalry, banter, and bragging that entails.

The popularity of fantasy sports was already a growing trend, but the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on sport has exacerbated it. In a time where attending a physical game may be dangerous or even banned, the digital nature of fantasy sports has allowed many to maintain their passion for sport.

How fantasy sports are changing the spectator experience

Traditionally, sports fans supported their team. Many would go to games, perhaps following their team across the country to attend games. If they couldn’t be there in person, they would watch the games on a screen, either at home or in bars, and home team loyalty was everything.

Fantasy sports changes that, as while fans are likely to still be cheering on their team, they are also keen to follow the progress of the individual players who make up their fantasy team. This might mean they watch unimportant games, as even in those, their players can pick up fantasy points. They might also watch teams that previously held no interest, as even though the result of the game is of no importance, the performance of one or more of the players might be vital for their fantasy league.

Of course, this focus on individual players can lead to split loyalties, as your home team might be playing a team that features some of your fantasy players, and a good result for the opposing team might boost your place in the fantasy league while having disastrous results for the side you physically support! 

New industries

Clothing, merchandise, and events have long been around for sports fans, providing a way for them to demonstrate their commitment to the game and enhance their enjoyment. The rise of fantasy sports has also resulted in a range of companies catering to this new type of sports fan.

Stores will also sell merchandise for fantasy sports fans, offering everything from t-shirts to mugs. Event companies are also cashing in on the new trend, with sports bars being just one of the locations that host live contests, while websites can offer niche analysis to help fantasy sports players make the best decisions for their teams.

Loyalty for the home team has not gone away, and many will continue to enjoy sports traditionally. But for many others, the easy accessibility and excitement of fantasy sports have changed the way they enjoy sports forever.

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