MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. -- The number of fantasy football players has doubled in the past five years. It's fueling dozens of economies, from television and internet revenues to magazine sales and chicken wing and beer sales. Research shows that younger players are now getting more involved and older players have no plans of retiring.
It was evident on a random Saturday morning in August in Downtown Minneapolis. "I couldn't wait for it. It was like waiting for Christmas morning last night," Trevor Van Shyndel said. He was one of an estimated 5 or 600 people who showed up at the Pour House around 9 a.m. He's a fantasy footballer, through and through. "Some years I've been in 6 leagues. I've kind of scaled it back to 3 this year. I think I can manage it better, but it's definitely addicting," he admitted while thumbing through a 250 page binder full of stats and projections.
He was listening to Paul Charchian, the host of this fantasy football training camp. Charch, as he's known, has been a big player in the industry for 20 years. He also hosts the first and longest running fantasy football radio show in the country. "Minnesota is a great market for fantasy sports," he explained.
Charchian is also the President of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, and the organization has been tracking a meteoric rise. 20 years ago, an estimated 3 million people played fantasy sports. "Now there are 33 and a half million Americans playing. Fantasy sport is now a $1.6 billion industry," he notes, adding football fuels 75% of the industry.
"The amount of time being spent playing fantasy football is pretty amazing. 9 hours, on average, will be spent in front of the computer. By comparison, we'll spend 7 hours a month on Facebook." Charch also notes the average fantasy football player watches twice as much NFL football on TV when compared to the average fan.
And it's not just a man's world. 20% of fantasy sports players are women; meaning 6.7 million women compete. "Well I commission 7 leagues," Michelle Aherns said proudly, before admitting she competes in a couple of other leagues as well. "I want as many people as possible to have fun during football season because it's the best time of the year," she said. We asked how women play, compared to men. "The women that are in the leagues... they whine less," was her reply.
Fantasy football has also changed the way we watch the NFL on Sundays. It's not uncommon for a diehard player to watch 3 different TVs while monitoring stats on 2 different laptop computers. "I love going to the game live, but then you miss watching your team," Trevor Van Shyndel said.
So now, fantasy football is a conversation that stadium architects are having. Rumor has it the new Vikings stadium will have a fantasy football lounge. San Francisco and Jacksonville will have them too. "It's got computers. It has wifi. It has the ability for you to go change your line up in the middle of games. It has tons of TVs so you can watch the other action," Charchian said.
Charchian is currently the President of Leaguesafe.com, which helps fantasy football commissioners manage money collection and distribution for leagues. He hosted a league draft a week and a half before the season started in his Leaguesafe offices. It is 1 of 7 leagues he'll play in this season.
"This is a way you keep in touch with your friends, and also a way that you and your frat buddies stay in touch when 7 of you move to different states," Charch explained.
The internet has fueled the explosion of fantasy football. It gives millions of players instant access to NFL coaches charts and it allows people in different states to stay connected.
John Tuvey, and insider for thehuddle.com, has been in a couple leagues for a quarter-century. He remembers the old days when folks read football box scores on the radio on Sunday nights. He says part of the appeal is it diversifies the viewing experience. "It brings the whole league into play. Instead of cheering for your hometown team, every game matters. You got somebody going in every game. So all day Sunday, Thursday night, Sunday night, you've always got some action," he said during a draft break.
That's what every fantasy football player wants. A piece of the action. The NFL is the nation's most popular sports league. That is not a fantasy, its reality.