Monday, November 15, 2010

Fantasy sports: Tipping point for the NFL?

The Curley Center was host today to a live chat about fantasy sports attended by editors and writers who write for a fantasy sports audience and by a league official (NHL) who coordinates outreach efforts to those fans.
One of the most interesting assertions about fantasy sports is that they were the catalyst for the NFL's rise during the past decade. Alex Simon, senior director of digital media for the NHL, said that fantasy "may be the single biggest explanation behind the NFL's success over the past 15 years" because of its power to turn casual fans of a given team into passionate fans of the game without specific team allegiances. Nate Ravitz, who writes and edits about fantasy sports for ESPN, said that overall, though, fantasy players aren't a large segment of NFL fans.
Even so, the chat reminded us of the power of fantasy sports to dictate how sports are covered. They may also be pulling fans out of the stadium and keeping them in their living rooms during games -- an unintended consequence of fantasy sports. Ravitz said a risk is "creating an environment where fans would rather sit at home and watch the Red Zone channel with their computer in front of them than sit in a football stadium."
There are likely other factors contributing to the decline of fan attendance at some pro events. Fantasy sports participation certainly does impact the way fans consume sports, though, as the panelists pointed out.
Fantasy participation may also encourage more cultural acceptance of gambling on sports. The line can be pretty thin. With professional athletes and journalists both participating in fantasy even as they play or cover the "real thing," the ethical quandaries (and missteps) could be significant.
For more on our online chat, see the transcript.
--M. Hardin

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