Monday, August 18, 2014

The History of Fantasy Sports in North America


Of all the trends involving sports in recent years, few have had the impact of fantasy sports. Today, there are fantasy leagues of all types around the world and especially in North America where it is estimated that over 42 million people participate. While fantasy football is the arguably the most popular, virtually every sport that involves teams and keeps statistics has a fantasy league.

Essentially, a fantasy sports league consists of people who draft real players of a particular sport into their team. The statistics that they generate after each game are then compiled into points that are compared to other teams in the same league with the results being posted.

A league commissioner is the one who calculates the points, although they may be done automatically by computer that provide the standings for each team. Team owners can sign, cut and trade players just like the owners of real teams over the course of the season. At the end, the team with the most victories wins. It is estimated that fantasy sports has an economic impact that reaches $4 billion annually.

The Beginnings of Fantasy Sports

Although most people may believe that fantasy sports did not begin until the dawning of the internet, the truth is that their origins start just after World War II. Wilfred Winkenbach is generally credited with the first fantasy sports effort when he created one for golf. His system allowed players to draft a team of professional golfers with the winner being decided on the lowest number of combined strokes at the end of a tournament.

Over the next twenty years, the concept of fantasy sports expanded to include baseball and football leagues. However, the first modern version was the formation of the Rotisserie League in 1980. Created by a group of friends, they drafted baseball players and kept track of their stats throughout the season. Because the stats of previous seasons were known, team owners could make more strategic decisions about who to pick for their team.

The Introduction of the Internet

By 1988, over 500,000 were playing in similar leagues around the country. Books and strategy guidelines were being printed and the hobby quickly became an obsession. However, it was the introduction of the internet that pushed fantasy leagues from a couple million into tens of millions of people becoming involved.

Football leagues in particular became highly popular in the US while hockey leagues began to dominate in Canada. The NFL fantasy football leagues in particular became highly popular with a football draft occurring in the late summer before the season started to set up the teams for each player. A pre-selected number of trades, cuts and acquisitions are usually set by the league commissioner and the team owners are free to be as active as they want to be.

Today, many televised sports programs actually include fantasy statistical information during the broadcast that appeals to the tens of millions of participants. There are fantasy leagues ranging from football, soccer and even cricket in the UK. There is little doubt that fantasy sports will continue to expand as the appeal of running your own team of players has an incredible, almost intoxicating appeal.


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