Fantasy sports is big business. A fanatic fan base and highly desirable demographic has turned it into a $3 billion industry in just the U.S. and Canada, growing over 12% annually. Also according to data provided by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association:

• 36.6 million people play fantasy sports in the U.S. and Canada

• 1 of every 5 males (12+) play fantasy sports in the U.S. and Canada

• Average household income of fantasy sports players is $92,750

The fantasy sports phenomenon caught fire with the advent of the internet. Fantasy sports as we know it was invented in 1980 by Daniel Okrent, a sportswriter, who created the first fantasy baseball league with some of his sportswriter friends. Yet, fantasy sports grew slowly because the league’s commissioner (the one who runs and oversees the league, like a real professional sports league commissioner) had to manually calculate all the stats, scores and standings for all the teams in the fantasy league.

In the 80’s, fax services emerged. They were a godsend to fantasy leagues. For a fee of about $800 for the season, they would calculate all of your league’s stats, scores and standings and fax the commissioner of the league a report once a week. What a timesaver. The only problem was that baseball games were played every day, still leaving fantasy gamers in the dark most of the time.

So, in 1996, some friends and I created Commissioner.com, the internet’s first fantasy sports service. Not only was it a place where fantasy players could communicate, update their lineups, add, drop and trade players, all of their stats, scores and standings were automatically updated every morning before they got to work. At first, we charged $300 per league, a huge savings over the fax services. It took off like wildfire. We had no idea how avid and dedicated fantasy sports players were. We actually received several e-mails from our users who thanked us for saving their marriages. Instead of calculating stats or spending hours researching, they spend time with their families instead.

The next big breakthrough by Commissioner.com was live scoring of your fantasy games as they’re happing. So, as soon as that touchdown pass is caught, your scores are updated. Again, fantasy players went bonkers, not only glued to their TV’s watching the game, they were glued to their computers (and now smart phones and tablets) as their fantasy matches developed.

And now, there are real cash prizes at stake. The Wall Street Journal recently featured an article about how the market is so lucrative, it can support some full-time players: people making a living off of fantasy sports prizes. An average week on FanDuel, the industry’s leading site, has over $2 million in prizes up for grabs. Prizes come from entry fees paid by participants in the fantasy games. Entry fees can range from $1 to hundreds of dollars, or more. And, it’s not gambling. In 2006, the U.S. passed The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which specifically excludes fantasy sports from internet gambling.

What are the social implications of fantasy sports? First, the industry has created many jobs that never existed before. In addition to websites where you can play fantasy sports, there are a plethora of sites that provide fantasy sports analysis, advice and the latest up-to-the-minute fantasy sports breaking news.

Second, according to the FSTA, 13% of all teens in the U.S and Canada play fantasy sports. They learn and sharpen their statistical analysis skills, as well as management and decision-making. High Schools are even offering courses on “Sports and Statistics.” Imagine the student focus and retention.

Third, fantasy sports fosters quality family time among parents and children. Many fantasy teams are father/son or father/daughter teams, which create positive bonding and connection throughout the whole season and beyond.

Fourth, fantasy sports crosses cultural barriers. The fantasy sports marketplace continues to set new record highs for all time participation by global sports fans. The industry is expanding internationally as the growth of broadband worldwide accelerates.

Scott Engel, host of the RotoeXperts show on Fantasy Sports Radio on Sirius/XM every morning, remarks that “You used to be a geek if you played fantasy sports. Now you’re a geek if you don’t, because everyone’s doing it.”

 

Matthew Fortnow is one of the founders of Commissioner.com, the internet’s first and premier fantasy sports service which is currently operated by CBSsports.com. He is presently developing a new type of fantasy sports game which will be even more fun, addictive and educational.