Lifestyle

Real fans, fake sport

There are no half-naked cheerleaders doing flying splits with headbands around their waists. The game is devoid of crazy fans, obnoxious loudspeakers and sweaty mascots that scare little kids. No airborne hotdogs shot into the stands. No stands, balls or pucks involved – or action for that matter. There isn’t even an actual game. It’s… Read more »

There are no half-naked cheerleaders doing flying splits with headbands around their waists. The game is devoid of crazy fans, obnoxious loudspeakers and sweaty mascots that scare little kids. No airborne hotdogs shot into the stands. No stands, balls or pucks involved – or action for that matter.

There isn’t even an actual game.

It’s like ordering a cheeseburger without the burger. And the cheese. And the bun. Oh, and hold the ketchup, mustard and pickles. But, it’s a “sport” with skyrocketing popularity. This reporter is so confused.

Surprisingly, fantasy sports are a phenomenally successful idea, marketed for more than 20 years. According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, this billion-dollar industry houses 15 million to 18 million fantasy sport players.

A large percentage of users are male, but the scales are slowly tipping as more women get involved.

Dozens of Web sites like Yahoo! Sports and ESPN.com are among the biggest leaders
on the bandwagon, with many more sites nipping at their heels. There are sites that charge money to play, while others just require a team to sign up. People, especially females, seem to still be a little fuzzy on the details of this ingenious money-making plan.

“Umm … I know what it is, I just don’t understand it,” senior criminal justice major Natalie Lobb said with a laugh. “I guess it gives guys something else about sports to get hyped up about.” Lobb said she has several guy friends who play online, but she herself is not involved.

Sumera Kazim said she had heard of fantasy sports like baseball and football, but doesn’t know exactly how to play. “Oh my gosh, my boyfriend is obsessed,” the junior biology major said. “I guess it’s fine, as long as [guys] are having fun, right?”

Freshmen friends Lindsey Backert and Tammy Leung tried to put their brains together
to get a concrete explanation of what fantasy sports involve. Both students agreed on the popularity of the games, saying they knew many guys active online, including high school teachers.

“I asked my guy friends if I could be in it one time and they said ‘Name 10 football people’ and I couldn’t so they said ‘No,'” Backert said. “I said, ‘It’s my money – let me try!'”

Pre-pharmacy major Leung said she doesn’t know why her friends play, but guessed people get to choose real players in the sport and use their stats to see who is better.

“I just want to learn how to play,” Leung said. “I hope they’ll end up just teaching me, but if not, let them waste their time and money.”

If the stereotype were true, every male between his teen and middle-age years would be an “owner” of a dozen multi-million dollar athletes, with his face glued to the computer screen and his finger on the trade button every Sunday afternoon. This is not the case.

“My friends play [fantasy] football and baseball, I just don’t really know why,” said Matt Schwartz, a jazz performance major. “I guess I just really don’t have the time, but whatever, … I don’t care.”

The senior certainly fit the description of a stereotypical fantasy sports addict – tall, jock-like and extroverted. Who knew?

So, what exactly is involved here? You pick a sport. NASCAR driving, golf, ice-skating
or the more popular football and baseball are only a few of the many available. Get some friends – or if you don’t have any, choose random players – and create a league on a site. Now, this is what separates the hardcore players from the cheap college kids. Do your research – some have a buy-in and others are free.

Each sport is different in how you draft players for your team, or how you select an individual for a singular sport like golf.

Even in the same sport, rules vary from league to league. After the draft, you score points throughout the season as your fantasy players perform in real life. In football, points are awarded for touchdowns, yards gained and fumbles recovered by your players out on the real field. Owners can determine the winner by tallying up each fantasy team’s weekly head-to-head record, or by which team scored the most point throughout
a season.

At the end of a week, winners are declared.
Total points gained in a season make for the champion. Leagues with pay-ins give out prizes across the site for winners. No joke here, you could drag home a cool 200G with a $1,200 buy-in at the American Fantasy Football League.

“I spend about $85 a season for football,” said senior Drew Bostik, an accounting major. “I’ve been playing [for] about five years. People ask me why I play and I guess to just beat my friends [at the game].”

So, maybe the motive is money. Or just the heat of competition. Thomas Cooney, a senior education major, said he’s been playing for about four years with his dad, his brother and his friends in a paid league.

“It’s a pretty fun setup because it’s like you’re part of the real thing,” he said. “I’ll be there playing until they come up with something better.

“My puzzlement surrounding fantasy sports has somewhat faded. Although the concept is mildly loopy, the execution of the game is a mixture of crazy stat-checking and fact organization. It’s not just a game for “dumb jocks” – it’s a way for all non-professional-but-still-serious athletes to take a stock in the sport. Maybe this reporter will draft me some footballers
next season.

The infamous “Real men of genius” Bud Light radio commercials dedicated one to “Mr. Fantasy Football Manager Guy.” A part of the commercial takes a crack at online players:
“You were born with the one skill every manager needs to play fantasy football … absolutely no skill playing real football. (Not so good at catching) imaginary catches, imaginary touchdowns. Next up: an imaginary score with an imaginary woman (good imagination).”

Clearly, the fantasy sports industry has left its economical and social mark.

“When will I stop playing?” Bostnik asked. “I’ll probably be playing until the day I die.”

Brianna Barry can be reached at bbarry@temple.edu.

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