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How fantasy football's explosion has changed way we cover, follow and consume NFL

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  • How fantasy football's explosion has changed way we cover, follow and consume NFL

    Whole New Game: How fantasy football's explosion during Roger Goodell's 10 years as commissioner has changed way we cover, follow and consume NFL

    BYMANISH MEHTA
    NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
    Friday, October 14, 2016, 7:23 AM
    The line between fantasy and reality has blurred the NFL universe, prompting an eruption that has taken the sport to new levels.

    The fantasy boom under Roger Goodell’s 10-year stewardship has jolted the league landscape by changing how we discuss, view and think about football.

    For better or worse, the NFL’s heightened popularity is rooted in a nerdy game born in a New York hotel more than a half century ago. The late Wilfred Winkenbach’s brain child has spawned a new NFL, where PPR, RBBC and Sleepers have become a part of the lexicon and the thirst for information is never quenched.

    Fantasy football has been the driving force behind the sport’s soaring interest in the past decade, a fickle game of skill and chance designed to thrill, anger and disappoint you every fall.

    “It’s fueled the popularity and explosion of football,” ESPN Insider Adam Schefter said. “It’s the HGH of the sport.”

    Fantasy has become such a part of the fabric of the sport that NFL owners Jerry Jones and Bob Kraft both have a stake in DraftKings, one of the two most popular Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) sites.

    A game once reserved for stat geeks is no longer marginalized. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimates 57 million people in the United States and Canada play fantasy sports, a more than 200% spike from the 18 million players in 2006.

    Forty million people play fantasy football today in what has become a $19 billion business.

    “This is a big part of our world,” NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport said.

    The scope has broadened. Every team matters. Every play matters. Fantasy has changed the discourse of the most popular sport in the country. This is not your father’s NFL.

    “Ten years ago, people still held fantasy at arm’s length,” ESPN’s top fantasy analyst, Matthew Berry, said. “There was the stereotype of the nerd in his mom’s basement. Now, you have celebrities, rock stars and presidential candidates playing it and talking about it. It’s become mainstream.”

    Fantasy has impacted reality in myriad ways, creating an around-the-clock madness once impossible to fathom.
    * * * * *

    The text message landed in Schefter’s phone during pre-show meetings on a recent Sunday.

    Gordon or Forsett today?

    Not a day goes by without a fantasy-inspired question from friends. Schefter has spent more than a quarter century mining for NFL information, cultivating sources like few others, but he’s smartly adjusted his focus in this age of fantasy football. The life of an NFL Insider is much different than it was a decade ago. There’s a premium on skill-position news (injuries and player deployment) fueled by fantasy.

    “News of a defensive player largely is met with a yawn,” said Schefter, who has over five million twitter followers. “I am aware of what has driven the popularity of the sport and why people care so much. Largely, it is fantasy football news and fantasy football players. It just is.”

    “Offensive information is far more relevant in today’s world than defensive information,” he added. “I can report that Chiefs safety Eric Berry is ending his summer-long impasse and signing his franchise tender. But who does that impact? The Chiefs fans and some AFC West fans. But no one, by and large, in fantasy football. So news on an offensive player just has more reach. It has more of an impact. People care more. That’s just the world that we live in right now.”

    An injury update on a starting guard, frankly, doesn’t move the needle. More people crave updates on a middling running back’s health than a Pro Bowl interior lineman or middle linebacker, which used to be a ludicrous notion. “It is only something I’m aware of 100 percent of the time,” Rapoport said about how mindful he is of his fantasy audience’s needs. “Every running back injury is important. Every receiver injury is important… I want to report things that people want to know. A lot of it is fantasy. I’m always curious to see how much something gets retweeted or how the story is doing online, because I want to see what people are interested in reading. Fantasy stuff goes through the roof.”

    Fantasy football has created a new wrinkle in the competitive world of NFL insiders. The 24-hour news cycle has been condensed to 24 minutes, prompting Schefter and Rapoport to dole out Sunday nuggets before the sun comes up. Last month, both tweeted that Patriots All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski would be a no-go against the Dolphins… BEFORE 5 A.M.

    Although Rapoport admits that he occasionally auto-tweets game-day news items (collected earlier in the week), he sets his alarm for 4:03 a.m. on fall Sundays. Schefter has a maniacal work ethic that makes you wonder whether he runs on batteries. Both are dispensing fantasy-relevant information before most of us brush our teeth in the morning.

    “I just really enjoy the responses from people who ask, ‘Don’t you ever sleep?’” Rapoport said with a laugh. “Those are my people who are probably up on the West Coast partying and getting their fantasy football updates at the club or bar.”

    No amount of insider intel, however, guarantees success. For all the information that Schefter has at his disposal, he isn’t exactly crushing it in either of the two fantasy leagues that he’s played in for the past seven years. His reservoir of knowledge has netted him one championship.

    “Even when you know, you don’t know,” Schefter said. “Fantasy is about taking the most information you have, following your gut and hoping for some luck. There is no real edge. It’s not like there’s some answer to the test like, ‘Oh yeah!’ Sometimes you’ll know if a guy is heavily involved in a game plan or not. But that assures you of NOTHING.”

    But it makes for great TV.
    * * * * *

    If bathroom breaks are the only way to separate you from your couch on Sunday afternoons, you’re not alone.

    NFL Network’s RedZone Channel has put viewers in a trance since 2009. The addictive whip-around format has catered to a fantasy-centric audience. It’s one-stop shopping for fantasy players, a convenient and cozy way to stay on top of your weekly matchup without leaving the comforts of home.

    TV execs have accepted their new reality: Fantasy football is here to stay.

    Nobody knows that better than Berry, who transitioned from Hollywood sitcom writer — he was a story editor, who contributed to 28 episodes (writing five) on the final season of “Married With Children” — to the face of fantasy football on the World Wide Leader. ESPN’s decision to make Berry an integral part of “Sunday NFL Countdown” last year is further evidence of the fantasy impact.

    ESPN execs encourage panelists and reporters on daily programs “NFL Live” and “NFL Insiders” to provide information that will spark a fantasy-friendly discussion without necessarily announcing that their nuggets are inspired by it.

    Adrian Peterson’s knee injury suffered in Week 2 prompted a very different debate than it would have a decade ago.

    “We talk about it all the time: Every piece of information you give probably has fantasy relevance to it,” said Seth Markman, ESPN’s senior coordinator producer for studio shows. “If you asked me 10 years ago, it would have been all about Adrian Peterson and how many games the Vikings can win without him. Right now, what’s equally important is how many carries (backups) Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata will get. You have to be able to deliver that information.”

    The demand for fantasy news is simply too great to ignore. ESPN debuted “Fantasy Football Now” as a digital-only offering in 2008 before its popularity prompted network executives to put it on television. The show ranked second behind “First Take” in regular-scheduled program viewership on ESPN2 last season (399,000 daily viewers).

    Television, of course, isn’t the only platform to consume fantasy information. Berry’s daily “Fantasy Focus” podcast had 6.1 million audio impressions last month (up from 3.9 million at this time last year). The video clips pulled from the podcast generated an additional 17 million impressions.

    NFL Media created a second daily fantasy show, “Fantasy and Friends”, to complement “NFL Fantasy Live” in response to the growing demand. Fantasy players, who signed up for free leagues on NFL.com, consume 4-5 times more content on the website than non-fantasy players, according to NFL Media’s vice president for social media and emerging programming Tom Brady.

    “They come back for more information,” said Brady, who has worked for the league for 13 years. “They’re looking for more articles or videos or any way to get the information they need to help their fantasy team… It’s not surprising once we started to build and create our own game. It’s pretty clear to me how much more deeply engaged our users that play fantasy are. It’s pretty remarkable.”

    The NFL has always held an appeal to gamblers, but the interest has grown exponentially thanks to fantasy. Fantasy players want an edge, but where can they get it?
    * * * * *

    Everyone has become Dr. Joyce Brothers amid this fantasy explosion, dispensing advice to wayward souls looking for draft and roster guidance. The landscape is saturated with experts, expert’s experts and self-proclaimed experts. Who should you start? Who should you sit? Who should you pick up? Who should you trade?

    It’s sometimes hard to see through the clutter and unearth valuable information like Evan Silva’s exhaustive work on Rotoworld.com. Silva’s 14,000-word weekly matchups column reflects how far fantasy football has come in the past decade, a thorough analytical study of every fantasy relevant player. Silva uses advanced statistics, trends and painstaking personal research that includes hours on “NFL Game Pass” to examine details to provide a comprehensive picture of what might lie ahead.

    The birth of the Daily Fantasy Sports industry a few years ago made Silva’s work that much more useful.

    “It’s been an avalanche,” Silva said. “(Daily Fantasy) enhanced the interest and need for information.

    “It amplified the intensity of the way we go about analyzing every game and trying to understand factors that result in better in-game performances.”

    Top DFS operators DraftKings and FanDuel blitzed the landscape by pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into advertising a few years ago only to fall from grace amid concerns from politicians that their contsruct where fantasy players put down cash and pick a lineup each week with a salary cap, were a form of illegal gambling. Five DFS operators, including FanDuel and DraftKings of course, resumed operations in New York in August after the state’s gaming commission granted a temporary permit, but skepticism remains.

    A Fantasy Sports Trade Association poll revealed that only 19% of fantasy sports players exclusively engage in DFS and only 17% play seasonal and daily formats.

    “(Daily Fantasy) might have already peaked,” Silva said. “There are enough people that are skeptical of it at this point that they’ll never try it. There are enough people that tried it and didn’t win. So I don’t know if that big player pool will grow a whole lot more.”

    Daily Fantasy was rocked last football season when DraftKings employee Ethan Haskell accidentally posted classified information on which players were most used one week, giving an edge to gamers looking for under-utilized players. Haskell went on to win $350,000 on rival FanDuel’s site, causing many to cry insider trading. Lawmakers and attorney generals across the country sought regulation.

    Fanduel and DraftKings employees have since been barred from playing on each other’s sites.

    Season-long formats still rule the roost. A new website with accompanying gurus seemingly pops up every day. There is an insatiable need to uncover every morsel of information to help you win. Nobody is immune to its powerful hold.

    “I get so excited about waiver claims that I wake up at like 4 in the morning,” Schefter said. “I can’t wait to see if I got the guy or not.”

    It’s the beauty and allure of fantasy football, the reason why it has changed our collective sports psyche over the past decade. It’s a cutthroat kind of fun that empowers you and crushes your soul.

    It has become a part of the fabric of the sport.

    “Who would have thought that I could make a full-time living wearing makeup and talking about fake football on TV?” Berry said. “God Bless America.”

  • #2
    “I get so excited about waiver claims that I wake up at like 4 in the morning,” Schefter said. “I can’t wait to see if I got the guy or not.”

    lol diehard
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