Last Week’s Question
In last week’s column, I
asked readers for their take on the possibility that fantasy football
has reached its saturation point in popular culture. Just as Peyton
Manning doesn’t have to say anything wrong or do anything
objectionable to be accused of “overexposure,” it seems
that fantasy football may be getting more attention than the American
mainstream might like (even though the hobby is, in many people’s
estimation, just as engaging as ever). My question grew out of a
response to this column by a reader named Robbie. Robbie has been
playing for years, but he has just about had it with fantasy football.
It turns out that many readers were willing to chime in on Robbie’s
position—several of them with quite long and thoughtful responses.
We’ll start with the most fully developed response I received
(almost a column in its own right) that came to me from FFToday’s
own Matt Waldman:
I do believe fantasy football is nearing its saturation point
in pop culture, but I don't think that means its popularity among
the sports culture is going to fade anytime soon. While sports
and popular culture overlap in many areas, they are still distinct
groups. It is the large media outlets that try to integrate sports
and popular culture for their profit that at the same time will
influence a natural decline of general interest.
I received a similarly thoughtful response from Scot, who adds these
In my opinion, part of the reason major media has
a hand in undoing the very same thing it brings forth is the fact
that major media purveyors have become more overtly profit-driven
in their approach to content. CBS, FOX, and ESPN fantasy sites
all primarily began under the umbrella of their news. As profit
margins climb, the outlets attempt to respond to this apparent
demand with the strategy of integrating fantasy football into
other areas of their business strategy as an attempt to capture
The problem occurs when the people asked to soft sell the fantasy
product are announcers, analysts, and news anchors. Some show
great disdain for the hobby--NBC's Bob Costas and ESPN's Scott
Van Pelt have made remarks on air that display that they dislike
fantasy football. In addition, Costas made remarks during a September
episode of Football Night In America that illustrated his ignorance
of the demographic his network has been working to capture--educated,
moderately wealthy, family-oriented men over thirty. Costas and
several others characterize fantasy football enthusiasts as socially
awkward, numbers-crunching hermits with no life. I believe you
spent 2005 looking into the demographic. I believe I have statistically
valid data that demonstrates most fantasy football enthusiasts
don't match this mischaracterization.
In addition, the major media is always trying to capture as broad
an audience as possible. To achieve this end, the networks often
tailor content to the lowest common denominator of their audience.
As a result, we have celebrity/commentator fantasy drafts where
not only do the participants illustrate they have no understanding
of how to play the game, but the hosts also display their ignorance
by criticizing good strategies. They may know football, but they
don't know fantasy football. ESPN's Mark Schlereth once pointed
out this difference during one of ESPN's ill-conceived fantasy
Naturally, you'll get more people interested in the hobby, but
you also have more people getting into it for reasons other than
their enjoyment of following football. This is the territory we've
entered as an industry. Fantasy football was once a relatively
small community of diehard sports fans. It evolved into a small
business community, and it is now a big business—and we're
seeing the positive and negative effects on the diehard fan: greater
accessibility and choice of information but in some cases a more
homogenized approach that detracts from the original feeling of
being a part of something that has true value. That's why some
fantasy enthusiasts are sick of hearing Kornheiser talk about
his fantasy team--his broaching of the topic rings hollow--as
if the producers are telling him to take this angle.
I believe we'll see an adjustment within the industry. Either
the major outlets will figure out how to focus more on a core
audience that will help them generate steady revenue or they won't
have much to do with fantasy football other than run leagues.
Maybe it's just my biased (and hopeful) outlook, but I believe
fantasy football is here to stay. Fantasy sports is like jazz
as opposed to disco. Jazz was once the popular music of this culture.
Although not nearly as popular as it once was, it's still has
a prominent place among people that enjoy music. It's just not
on the forefront of popular culture. I find it hard to believe
it will just die out like disco.
Robbie’s frustration seems to have two elements:
(1) Do fantasy leagues destroy or impair relationships; and (2)
has the major sports media’s "embracing" of fantasy
football led to fantasy overload.
With respect to the first issue - I am in two "money"
leagues, one with a bunch of guys I went to high school with;
and the second with a bunch of guys I used to work with. I think
this is a pretty common occurrence. The problem is that, absent
fantasy football, I wouldn't see these guys very often, and
our previously close friendships would sort of naturally dissolve.
When we did see each other, we would be happy and be able to
talk about what was going on in our lives. I don't think fantasy
football destroys friendships per se, but I do think that it
prolongs relationships that would otherwise die a natural death.
But the mechanism that prolongs the "friendship" is
this competitive thing called fantasy football. When we don't
see each other outside of fantasy football, all of the inherent
competitiveness (and possible distrust) in fantasy football
kind of imposes itself on the friendship, and because you don't
have any other common ground, it’s easy to feel like fantasy
has destroyed or impaired a friendship that shouldn't really
exist anymore. That's my experience. Just last week I avoided
a holiday party where I knew several of my co-owners would be
present precisely because there had been some tension regarding
trades this year. Every year, the draft gets a little more awkward,
as I have less and less to say to these people outside of fantasy
With respect to the second issue, I definitely think that
the major sports media fails to understand what information
is important to FF, but tries to make up for its lack of understanding
through pure volume. About the only thing that ESPN or any other
media source offers that is really useful to the experienced
fantasy player are injury updates. Otherwise, FF is all about
educated guessing. We make educated guesses when we draft and
make educated guesses every week when we pick a lineup. Because
the major sports media isn't really privy to the gameplans of
any individual team, when they make Start em'/Sit em' calls,
they are basing their picks (or guesses) on the same information
as the rest of us. Especially frustrating are the segments where
we get the hot tip to start LaDainian Tomlinson. What I've realized
over the last couple of years is that I can guess as well as
any supposed "expert" with a website, and the website
guys (like you) are the ones that have the space and time to
really, really focus on the trends. The guys on ESPN (for example)
don't have the time or expertise to explain why they like a
guy for that week. After a while, all this shallow analysis
becomes mere "noise" to the experienced fantasy owner,
and patronizing noise at that. I don't know about you or anyone
else, but when I am being patronized by an expert providing
first level analysis, I want to throw a brick through the TV,
and it’s almost enough to make me want to chuck the whole
I don't know if this is really responsive to the issues
you were hoping to explore. These are the FF issues that frustrate
me, and almost make me feel like quitting.
Like Scot, Tim appears to be “almost” at the end
of his tether with fantasy football, but he seems only ready to
quit playing in certain kinds of leagues (instead of forgoing
Interesting timing for this question, as I have
just been contemplating the same thing over the last couple of
weeks. First off, I am a die-hard fantasy football player, a 10-year
vet, typically playing in at least 3 money leagues, commish of
my own new league this year, and dabble in baseball and basketball
as well. I love fantasy—always have. But this year...things
are changing. It's not as fun. The stakes are higher, winning
and losing means more, and I feel like I'm starting to care too
much about things outside of my control.
This all culminated 2 weeks ago with the late-week scoring
change on McNabb's TD to Brown/Buckhalter. I of course had McNabb,
and this scoring change turned my loss to a win. Except [my]
terrible fantasy website didn't make the change. So I had to
lobby the commish (who agreed that we should change it), and
suffer through TWO league votes, eventually getting defeated
in my attempt and getting stuck with the loss. All the while
it's perfectly obvious that I'm losing this vote not because
of the rules, but because I'm leading my division and people
stand to gain more by me getting the loss. Unbelievable. Anyway,
while this is all going on, I realized that maybe it's not worth
it. Especially in this league, the ultimate high-stakes, 12-team,
keeper league that we have been modifying for 8 years to eliminate
all shadiness, which plagued us early on. But no matter what
we do, EVERY year something happens for owners to get sore about.
Without fail, we bicker every year, and it ends up coming between
long-standing friendships. So even though I won this league
2 years ago, finished runner-up last year, and still have a
good shot at it this year, I'm throwing in the towel. I'll play
a flat-entry $25 or $50 league next year, maybe two, but once
the stakes start getting this high, ($1200-1500+ for the winner),
it's no longer just for fun.
On the flip-side of that, I give my ex-girlfriend's mom
advice every week on who she should start. She's a 50+ year
old woman, and she LOVES fantasy. So I don't think this fad
has run its course yet. It IS fun, and it does make football
more fun to follow when you have a stake in it. So for the general
public, I don't think it's even peaked yet, much less reached
a saturation point. For myself and some others, I'm sure, it
has however gotten to a point that the fun vs. investment balance
needs to be re-evaluated.
In addition to the fairly detailed meditations of Matt, Scot,
and Tim, I received numerous shorter responses along the lines
of this one from John:
As for saturation, yes, the world is completely
saturated with FF. The reason I loved FF [years ago] was that
if you worked hard and had a good draft, you could be assured
of doing well. Do your homework each week, scour the stats, and
things will work out. Nowadays, with the never-ending [supply
of and] demand for info, some of the fun has gone out of it. Anyone
can sort the stats of all the players and pick out the best of
the bunch. And now the NFL is changing somewhat again. How many
teams have a true #1 RB? In the coming years you are going to
be faced with more and more teams forcing you to choose between
RBs (like Barber and Jones in Dallas).
Some readers will doubtless object that the challenge figuring out
which Bell to trust in Denver and which RB will emerge as the go-to
guy for the Jets is part of the strategic allure of fantasy football,
but the general tenor of John’s response is consistent with
what many fantasy diehards appear to be feeling at the moment. Even
so, I can’t help thinking that Waldman’s jazz analogy
is correct. Even though FF may be alienating more people than it
is winning over right now, the hobby has too much going for it to
shrivel up and die.
This Week’s Question
A reader named Jim wrote in this week about a potential conversion
of his redrafter league to a keeper league. I’ll let him put
his question to the readers of this column himself:
I’ve been playing with pretty much the same
group of guys in the same 10-team league for three years now,
and we talked at this year’s draft about maybe turning the
league into a keeper league for next year. I know there are lots
of different ways of setting up a keeper league, but we don’t
want to do anything extreme. We need come up with some way of
handling the transition that isn’t unfair, and I’m
not sure what that would be. For instance, the guy with Marques
Colston wants to keep him, but he didn’t even draft Colston.
He picked him up on waivers a couple of weeks into the season.
If we say that Colston is just going to cost him a 16th-round
pick next season (our draft goes 16 rounds), then no one else
is going to want to do a keeper league because this one owner
seems to get too much of an advantage. It sounds like we want
to get to the point of keeping 3 players each year, but I don’t
think we should start with 3 since we didn’t know for sure
that we were going to be moving in this direction during our draft
this season. Should we just put the whole thing off for a year?
All suggestions to help Jim with his transition are welcome.
For those who are interested, Matthew Schiff has compiled a list
of teams that neither he nor his colleague Michael has picked
all season: OAK, HOU, GB, CLE, NO, TB, BUF, NYJ, STL or MN. Obviously,
all of these teams have won at some point. Picking them on the
right weeks has presumably been critical to the success of those
who are still alive in their LMS pools.
#3: NY Giants over Dallas (9-3 Season):
The Giants lived up to my expectations last week by losing to
the Titans on the road. No one would have expected them to give
up 24 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, but Eli Manning
seems to be really rattled, and his throws are all over the place.
Even his short throws are in the dirt with no one around him.
That said, the team had a players’ only meeting, and you
can bet that the one thing that came out of this meeting is that
if they lose this game, their chances for a playoff spot are damaged
let alone winning the NFC East. The G-Men need this game more
than the Cowboys, and while Bill Parcells has his Cowboys playing
their best football all season, look for the home team to eke
out a win.
#2: NY Jets at Green Bay (9-3 Season):
Green Bay played a very good game against a Seattle team that
probably is the second best team in the NFC right now. This week
the surprising Jets will show up with a quick strike passing offense
that should take advantage of the 29th ranked pass defense that
has given up a league leading 21 receiving touchdowns. And while
the Jets’ defense didn’t start the season well, they
have played great over the last three weeks against New England,
Chicago and Houston. Home field advantage may go the Packers,
but the win goes to the Jets.
#1: New England over Detroit (9-3
Season): There hasn’t been a game all season in which
I felt comfortable picking the Patriots, that is until this week.
Jon Kitna is having all sorts of problems behind a week offensive
line that has not been helped in the draft in almost six years.
And while the wide receivers of the Lions might be better than
those on the Patriots, the Lions will be hard pressed to mount
a balanced attack with Kevin Jones out of the lineup. This will
allow the 3rd ranked rushing defense to game plan for pass blitzes
all day long. Meanwhile Tom Brady and Lawrency Maroney should
have big days at home as they review and repeat the game plan
from Miami’s Thanksgiving Day feast in Motor City.
3 - (6-6) - Chiefs over Browns -
Cleveland is imploding, and they hadn't been doing well before that
either. The offense just isn't there for the Browns, which means
the defense will be on the field a lot. Larry Johnson is already
looking forward to the 4th quarter. Trent Green is still working
his way back into form, but he hasn't had to put up the big passing
numbers yet. He won't need to this week either.
2 - (8-4) - Patriots over Lions -
Sometimes New England looks as good as ever and sometimes Detriot
is still Detroit. We saw both last week, and I think we'll see it
again this week. The Pats are at home and working on building momentum
for the playoffs. The Lions keep coming up short or simply get blown
out, which I expect to happen this week.
3 - (11-1) - Saints over 49ers -
New Orleans is rolling right now. The Niners have improved as the
season progresses, but they simply won't be able to keep up with
the Saints in the Superdome. Drew Brees should have another big
day. He's putting up points and yards no matter who is catching
the ball. I think he'd still get it done with a receiving corps
of those vending machines.
For responses to this week's fantasy question or to share your
LMS picks, please email
me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football
Readers who want to have their fantasy questions answered live,
on the air, by Mike Davis are invited to tune into FFEXradio
on Friday afternoons at 5:00 p.m. EST. Archived
programs are also available.