Fantasy Football: Is It Ruining the NFL?

Charles HoweCorrespondent IAugust 31, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 15:  NFL player Terrell Owens sits courtside in Game Six of the 2010 NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on June 15, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Fantasy Sports Trade Association, founded in 1999, funds a survey to research the fantasy sports demographic every year. The FSTA commissions Ipsos, a company that describes itself as a private research think-tank in the fields of media and advertising, to poll people in North America about their fantasy sports’ habits.

These polls reveal that between 2003 and 2008, the industry doubled from 15 million fantasy players to nearly 30 million fantasy players. The surveys suggest that fantasy football is king of the fantasy sports world, with 85 percent of all fantasy sports participants playing fantasy football.

Ipsos asks the participants of their surveys a series of questions ranging from personal data to shopping habits. The FSTA only releases a portion of the survey’s results to the general public. The organization reserves most of the information for its members, which number around 130 fantasy-sports-related companies.

The FSTA supplies its members with the demographic information collected by Ipsos to help the fantasy sports industry generate somewhere between $800 million and $1.5 billion in revenue every year.

Besides helping fantasy sports companies earn a truckload of money every year, results of the studies show that fantasy sports enthusiasts watch more televised sporting events than fans that don’t play fantasy sports, often to keep track of their team in real time.

Information suggests that many fantasy participants are more interested in the performances of individual players than whether their favorite team is victorious on game day.

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

As long as Chris Johnson rushes for 150 yards and a pair of touchdowns, who cares if the Titans win? Fantasy football does not measure a player’s contribution to the team’s chances of winning, it only measures statistical outputs.

If Troy Polamalu intercepts a Jake Delhomme pass and returns it to the Browns’ 2 yard line where Josh Cribbs forces him out of bounds, whoever owns the Steelers’ defense in your league, under most standard scoring options, will receive 2 points. However, the player with Rashard Mendenhall on his team will receive six points when he punches it into the end zone on the next play. The credit for that touchdown is not fairly distributed.

Many fantasy owners were livid when Maurice Jones-Drew opted to kneel at the one-yard line instead of scoring a touchdown in order to run more time off the clock during the waning moments of a matchup against the Jets last November. New York was out of timeouts and the kneel setup the game winning field goal. However, around water coolers everywhere fantasy owners complained about the move despite the fact that the “New York Times” reported that statistician Brian Burke crunched the numbers and Jacksonville’s chances of victory increased by 17 percent the moment that Jones-Drew’s knee touched the turf.

Could the fantasy trend be contributing to the breakdown of the team concept?

Contract disputes have always been a part of the game of football; however, these problems seem to happen more often in today’s fantasy-driven NFL.

In 2005, Terrell Owens lobbied for a new contract with the Philadelphia Eagles during the second year of a seven year contract. While renegotiating contracts is a common occurrence in the NFL, renegotiating that early in a long-term deal was previously unheard of.

NFL contracts are notoriously back heavy to help offset the signing bonus that players typically receive up front. Owens only made a base salary of $660,000 in 2004, which initially seems very low for a player of his caliber at the time. However, he had received a $10 million signing bonus that same year and was scheduled to make $4.5 million in 2005.

Prior to the 2005 season, Colts wide receiver, Marvin Harrison signed a six-year, $66 million contract which dwarfed Owens’ seven-year, $49 million contract that he signed with Philadelphia just the year before. The Eagles refused to renegotiate Terrell Owens’ contract despite his demands and threats. Owens’ displeasure with not receiving a new deal eventually led to his release from the team in 2006.

Could the more than 20 million fantasy football owners in 2005 have helped convince Terrell Owens that his statistical output was more important than his team? Obviously, they weren’t the only reason for the Philadelphia ordeal. However, as the attitudes of the fans change, so do the attitudes of the NFL and the players. As the fans place great players on a pedestal that towers over the players’ teams, already inflated egos grow.

Every sport teaches the children that play the game the importance of teamwork. Every coach in America tells the kids on his team that no player is greater than the team. Somewhere at the professional level, this concept gets lost on some players.

Also lost in translation in today’s fantasy age is respect for the players that helped build the NFL. The NFL’s popularity exploded in the 1960s and 1970s; the men from that era paved the way for the players of today, and their predecessors laid down the foundation before them. The reason the NFL enjoys so much success today is because the current players stand on the shoulders of giants; giants that the fans of today have mostly forgotten.

Offensive statistics during the 1960s and 1970s look minuscule next to the numbers that even average players achieve today. Since the majority of fantasy players are between the ages of 18 and 34, they weren’t around to appreciate the game of that era.

There was a time when the most important statistic was the score at the end of the game. The statistics weren’t as impressive, but the fans watched for the love of the game and the love of their team. No one cared how many yards the quarterback threw for or how many touchdowns the tailback rushed for as long as the team emerged victorious.

Today’s game is fast-paced, exciting, and packed with mind-boggling stats; it is constantly changing to keep up with the times. But, when many fans and players care more about the accomplishments of an individual than the welfare of the team, is the game changing for the better?