Steinberg: Fantasy football pumps game

This weekend begins my favorite time of year. It marks the return of high school, college and NFL football.

Combined with the pennant races in Major League Baseball and many other sports, it is a cornucopia of sports participation and television viewing that lifts every fan's spirit. There are certain circles where this phenomenon is not as welcome. I once represented a hard-core sports fan in a spoof on the Roseanne Barr show whose wife was suing him for alienation of affections on the grounds that his couch obsession was ruining their marriage.

Gloria Allred represented the wife and the debate was lively. I'm happy to say we prevailed.

I used to say that the health of my profession rests on the irrationality of middle-aged men. If they used the same business judgment that they used in spending time and money in their primary work that they do in relation to sports, our country would be in even worse economic shape.

I was reminded of that upon receiving an urgent message from my COO Scott Bogdan, a former Corona del Mar High football player who is a technological genius. Fearing the worst I checked in last week to be told that my presence was required at the draft night for the fantasy football league with Scott and his friends. It seems one of the participants could not be present to pick his team and Western civilization might fall if I could not fill in for him. The draft was held on Wednesday night and I was warned that every millisecond I was late would insure dire consequences.

I arrived at the secret location on the Peninsula only to discover a group of men sitting around computers with War Room intensity. They were picking teams of current NFL players which would allow them to compete with each other based on the performance of the players they drafted on the field.

The formula for calculating points was complex, as one participant explained, "I could tell you, but then I'd have to kill you." These were talented young professionals using their educations and considerable skills to outwit each other. Their collective knowledge of the running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers throughout the league would put many NFL directors of player personnel to shame.

I picked Peyton Manning with my first pick, couldn't go wrong there … wrong. It seems there was doubt as to whether he would play the first week and I might have already jeopardized the chances of my owner. I used my actual knowledge of team offenses and players to draft which probably consigned my owner to the deepest, darkest dungeon of the league. I didn't exit the high-tech room festooned with pizza boxes and beer (fortunately there were a couple lonely Diet Cokes) until after 10 p.m.

It is estimated by the Fantasy Sports Trade Assn. that 32 million people aged 12 and above in the U.S. and Canada played fantasy sports in 2010. Fantasy football players consist of 90% of the fantasy sports industry. Participation has grown over 60% the past four years with 19% of males in the U.S. playing fantasy sports. One frightening marker for our economy is that 30% of fantasy footballers manage their teams while on office computers. Today it is estimated that over 19 million people compete in public and private leagues nationally.

This new way to enjoy sports pumps some three to four billion dollars into the sports business. The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement act of 2006 limited credit card use for online gambling, but kept fantasy football legal.

The NFL entered into a reported five-year $600 million deal in 2006 with Sprint that was driven at least in part because of fantasy sports, allowing subscribers to draft and monitor their teams with their cellphones. Yahoo, ESPN, CBS,, fantasy and Fox Sports provide information and garner major revenue.

Some of the businesses that have popped up in this billion-dollar industry include fantasy sports insurance salesman and attorneys who will settle disputes for a fee. Fantasy sports players watch more game telecasts, buy more tickets and spend money at stadiums at a much higher rate than general sports fans. (Thanks to Justin Greeley, our UC Irvine law student intern for research help).

So when you can't relate to the wild cheering and joy that greets certain plays on the field, you are in the presence of the uber-universe of fantasy sports.


LEIGH STEINBERG is a renowned sports agent, author, advocate, speaker and humanitarian. His column appears weekly. Follow Leigh on Twitter @steinbergsports or

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