Fantasy Football – A Lesson In Monetizing Anything

Attention entrepreneurial spirits – the following would have seemed as fictional as Star Wars to our grandfathers, not to mention Vince Lombardi. However, it’s all true and there’s a valuable lesson in this – you can monetize anything!

Congratulations to the NFL. They’ve found a way to keep a huge fan base despite the myriad off the field issues they seem to shrug off weekly. The referee strike of 2012 and the inept replacements? Forget it – that didn’t even register on the NFL fan’s “List of Things to Care About. ” How could it? This is a league that has recently seen popular players either indicted or found guilty of domestic violence, rape, child abuse, and murder. Nice guys, huh? In short, there is NOTHING that would keep us from tuning in each Thursday, Sunday, and Monday (in my lifetime, I am sure there will be a game on every night of the week). TV ratings suggest this monster really IS too big to fail.

So why do we do it? It’s not because we care about who wins or loses the actual game. Some of us do, but we’re now in the minority. No, the wins and losses are not even the second reason. Sports gambling, though illegal in most states, WAS what kept the NFL atop the list for sports fans. People gamble nearly $10 billion on the Super Bowl alone. Imagine what a full season brings in. The joke used to be something like “Daddy’s favorite team is the Dolphins and he wants them to win by less than 4 points.” However, because gambling has such a negative connotation in society, people don’t talk about it much, and certainly not when they lose.

The thing that will help the NFL remain the king of the hill indefinitely turns out to be the photo negative of gambling. It’s Fantasy Football, and it’s nearly reached the point where we can remove the word “Fantasy” from the name. It’s quite real, and it’s here to stay. Gambling is illegal because it’s considered a “game of chance.” Wagering on Fantasy Football is legal because it is considered a “game of skill” (don’t ask me who decides these things, but it’s true). Gambling is ugly because it can ruin people’s lives when they lose. Fantasy Football is innocent and fun, even though the same amount of money is spent on participating, and yes, half of it is lost. With gambling, there is only money. With Fantasy Football, there is money, but also funny team names, trophies, and bragging rights. It’s market norms versus social norms, once again. Unless you live in one of the few states where gambling is legal, it takes connections to people with connections to partake. Participating in Fantasy Football only requires an internet connection and as little as a $1 investment.

Fantasy Football’s roots can be traced back to the 1960’s, but that was a different world. It wasn’t until the last 10 years, thanks entirely to the internet, that it took flight and became a craze… and a SERIOUS business. About 40 million Americans are playing some form of Fantasy Football this year, and they are spending approximately $2 billion to do so, but that’s just the beginning. When you consider the entire industry, the empire that is Fantasy Football is estimated to be worth more than $50 billion! And it’s going to continue to grow. Everybody’s doin’ it. I play, my friends play. Heck, even NFL players play! Just this week, one NFL player tweeted “I’m probably going to lose my fantasy football matchup this week cause (Adrian Peterson) can’t play Sunday for disciplining his child… ” Really.

While you won’t hear announcers talk about point spreads, they frequently refer to Fantasy statistics. The crawl at the bottom of the TV screen is now devoted to the new national pastime. As big as the NFL has become, it recognizes that it NEEDS the Fantasy Football element to keep its brand healthy, so they go out of their way to promote it. There are magazines, books, radio shows, and TV shows devoted to it and there is even a TV series based on a group of friends tied together by their Fantasy Football league. Only in America!

On-line Fantasy Football sites are raking in money, capitalizing on the popularity of this “game of skill.” One of the most popular sites boasts that it pays out more than $10 million per week. Considering they are cleverly charging 10% on every dollar to facilitate the thousands of contests among strangers, it’s easy to calculate how a company like this can quickly become worth millions almost overnight. And it’s not just NFL football. Most of these sites provide the forum for “Fantasy” baseball, hockey, basketball, golf, and the major college sports.

The lesson in all of this is simple – If you build the site, they will come, and they will come with dollars to spend. Find the product that people are crazy about and make it available to them on-line, in any form you can. If you don’t have the product itself, write a book about it. If you don’t want to write a book, write an article and sell it. Position yourself as an “expert” (whoever questions that anyway), and you’ll command a price.

Now, if you’ll excuse me. It’s nearly game time and I need to root for my kicker’s offense to move the ball down the field to the 30 and then get stopped. Strange thing, this Fantasy Football.