By Ray Hamill
It’s crunch time in the fantasy world, and for most leagues around the country the playoffs get under way this week.
It all comes down to this. An entire season of game planning, maneuvering, wire scanning and agonizing game-time decisions all leading up to this weekend.
Bragging rights are on the line.
Pride is on the line.
And more importantly, there’s money on the line.
And adding to the intrigue, there’s little more than a thin line separating either side of that line.
An extra yard here. A defensive stop there. A coach’s decision somewhere. A poor officiating call that could make or break your entire season.
Fantasy football, now a multi-billion dollar industry, has forever changed the way we watch the NFL. It has forever changed the way we watch sports. The way we follow sports. The way we bet on sports.
It’s the perfect three-way marriage really – sports, betting and fantasy all together in one neat little package.
For many, in fact, it really doesn’t get any better than that.
So how has it changed the sporting landscape? Well, where to begin.
First up, the fantasy sports world got started in baseball in the 1980s, but really took off in NFL circles in the early 2000s.
It has continued to grow on an almost annual basis since then, now attracting fans of all backgrounds and allegiance, and even numerous casual fans who now have more than a casual interest in NFL statistics.
It has also changed the way we watch the games. We continually need updates from other games, and we get an endless supply of them across the bottom of our screens.
The fantasy watch. The fantasy leaders. The fantasy forecast.
Don’t get me wrong, football fans still have their favorite teams they live and die by – at least most of us do – but thanks to fantasy leagues we also now have several other players to cheer for every Sunday.
And more importantly, we now have another team, our team, a team where we control every move, every draft pick, every contractual negotiation.
And that’s changed the culture of the sports fanatic’s world.
These days millennials are as apt to have a favorite NFL or NBA player as much as a favorite NFL or NBA team, and will often follow that favorite player to whatever team he joins.
That goes against everything old school fanatics hold sacred, and the evolution of fantasy football has played a role in it.
According to some reports, as many as 75 million Americans now play fantasy football, that’s more than one in every five people here.
It has created an industry all on its own, an industry that goes well beyond the six or seven billion dollars we bet on it all every year.
Because of that we now have fantasy football shows and podcasts every day, advising us on who to pick up, who to drop, and who to avoid at all costs.
While social media coverage of the fantasy game is as widespread as that of the real game itself, and experts stake their reputations and careers on their opinions, some of them becoming every bit the star as the players they advise us on.
And for many of us, it all comes down to this weekend. The beginning of the playoffs, the push for glory, the right to brag for the next nine months.