If you watched any NFL games over the weekend – or any television for that matter – you no doubt were bombarded with commercials for the two major one-week fantasy sports enterprises, DraftKings and FanDuel.
Fantasy sports – particularly fantasy football – has been around for years. One-week fantasy sports is a relatively new phenomenon and has enjoyed explosive growth. Instead of picking your fantasy team for an entire season and getting a small cash prize at the end if you win, DraftKings and FanDuel allow players to choose different teams each week, earning sometimes significant cash prizes if their teams compile the most points. Players may play one week or every week.
Wait a minute, I know what you're probably thinking. Isn't this illegal gambling?
It might seem like it, but, so far, no one who enforces laws thinks so. The difference between betting $50 on the Cincinnati Bengals to cover the spread against the Oakland Raiders and putting up $50 to play your fantasy team is that fantasy football is considered a game of skill, not chance.
According to FanDuel, as long as your are at least 18 years old and live in either the U.S. or Canada, you can legally pick your teams and place your bets. Pete Rose may have been banned from Major League Baseball for betting on baseball games, but for other sports leagues, whether professional athletes should be allowed to play one week fantasy games remains a murky subject.
The leagues, meanwhile, are all in, as are sports media.
“We've even partnered up with companies like NBC, Sports Illustrated, Comcast, Sporting News, and plenty of others,” FanDuel says on its website.
How to play
Instead of picking a particular team to beat another team, fantasy players assemble a “team” of actual players, winning points for how well those athletes perform in a particular game. In the case of football, participants “draft” a quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, a tight end, a kicker, and a team defense.
There is a fairly complicated formula that assigns points based on how each player performs in a game. For example, if Tom Brady was your quarterback Sunday, you would have done quite well, earning eight points for Brady's two TD passes and 14.32 points for his 358 passing yards and no interceptions.
Highest points win
Each position has a similar formula to produce points. The highest point total in the league – the players in a particular group – wins the money put up by the rest of the participants, with FanDuel or DraftKings taking a small cut.
To prevent participants from “drafting” the best players at every position, professional players are assigned a contract value, with the best-performing players having the highest values. Fantasy players have a budget, or salary cap, of $60,000 to assemble a team. If you want to draft Tom Brady at quarterback, you'll probably have to choose a lesser known, or sleeper player at one or two of the other positions to stay under the cap.
If it all sounds like a male sports geek obsession, it isn't. Leger, The Research Intelligence Group, estimates nearly one-quarter of this year's NFL Fantasy Football players are women, a steady climb over the past few years.
"We're seeing a small, steady trend showing the rate that women are playing Fantasy Football is growing faster than that among Fantasy Football players in general," said Lance Henik, Senior Account Manager at Leger. "According to the Fantasy Sports Trade association, approximately 20% of all fantasy players in 2011/2012 season were women. The results from our 2013 poll showed 23% of Fantasy Football players were women, with our latest poll results currently showing that 25% of them are women."
As the 2015 NFL season kicked off earlier this month, both DraftKings and FanDuel saturated the airwaves, competing for even more participants. According to iSpot.TV, Draft Kings spent $81 million in ads between August 1 and mid September, more than the traditional sponsors of NFL games, beer companies, carmakers, and athletic shoe companies.
Season-long fantasy football leagues are mostly played for fun, a way for sports fans to enjoy the season. As the commercials make clear, one week leagues are all about the money – and there's a lot of it. In its TV commercials over the weekend, DraftKings boasted it would pay out more than $1 billion for the season.
It can cost as little as $1 to field a team for the week, but the potential payout for that amount is very small. Players who pay more can potentially earn more – but can lose more as well.
If you watched any NFL games over the weekend – or any television for that matter – you no doubt were bombarded with commercials for the two major one-week...