Fantasy football and mobile tech have changed the way we watch sports. In many ways, sports have always seemed like an immutable and unchanging part of our lives. The seasons have a particular rhythm, as regular as the flooding of the Nile once was, as fans cycle between the giddy optimism at the beginning of the year into the comfortable daily or weekly grind as the season moves on, into the stomach-clenching and butterfly-ridden spasmed excitement of the playoff push. But the Nile doesn’t flood anymore; it’s been dammed up, and just as that has changed, the way we watch and process sports has been forever altered.
Professional sports have been some of the great beneficiaries of the information age. With access to enormous amounts of data and stories, most fans feel they understand the games better than ever, and because of that, feel they are closer to and more a part of the experience. Mobile tech has taken that a huge step forward. We watch games now whenever and wherever we want, unlinking them from the basement and sports bar. Additionally, our smartphones have given us the ability to constantly be playing auxiliary games, like daily fantasy, that are changing our perception of what watching sports actually is. With football underway, and with a win stirring some hope in the Bay Area, let’s take a look at how mobile tech and daily fantasy have combined to change how we watch sports.
Daily Fantasy: The Biggest Boom in Sports
Most people are familiar with traditional fantasy sports, which exist in every league (but we’ll just talk about football here). You and your friends select a team of players at the beginning of the year- a QB, RB, some receivers, a defense, etc, and as those individual players accumulate stats throughout the course of the season, your team rises and falls. This was once a small hobby devoted to baseball, but now it encompasses nearly every sport, with fantasy football leading the way. The rise of the Internet age made fantasy sports accessible and easy for everyone.
Daily fantasy takes this a step further. Every week (or every day for baseball, hockey, and basketball) you pick a team based on who you think will have the best game. You buy into a league that is set up just for that week of games. The buy-in can be anywhere from $5 to hundreds or even thousands of dollars depending on what you want to do. You are then given a dollar amount to spend on players. Let’s say you have $10,000—you have buy a team and stay under that amount. Players’ cost is determined by their stats. So you can spend $4,000 on Aaron Rodgers and another $3,000 on Julio Jones, but then you only have $3,000 left to fill out the rest of your team. It is all about finding the balance of great players and inexpensive, hidden gems.
This has become huge business. Winners can get thousands of dollars a day, and the top companies are even offering special million dollar prizes. It is considered a game of skill, not chance, which makes it legal in all but five states. The top companies, like DraftKings and FanDuel, are hugely profitable, and many Silicon Valley companies, such as Yahoo and Google, are looking to get into the market or buy them out. Two years ago very few people had ever heard of these microfantasy games. Now they are the biggest thing in sports.
How Mobile Tech Changes The Way We Watch Sports
Fantasy already altered how we watch sports. For one thing, it made many people better fans, or at least smarter ones. We knew the numbers, and paid more attention. I know it made me start paying attention to everyone around the league, and not just on my local team. But they also can erode normal loyalty. Everyone who has ever played knows the feeling when the quarterback on your fantasy team is up against the team you actually root for.
Daily fantasy takes that a step further. You don’t even have a full team of players that you are managing over the course of the season, to whom you grow attached (or sometimes very, very angry). It shifts every day or week. On any given Sunday, you can have five or six teams, whipsawing your attention all over the place.
Mobile tech has heightened this trend of divided, or distracted, fandom. You can go into a sports bar and manage dozens of teams while watching every game. Instead of being mildly interested in what the Panthers are doing, you’ll be rapt, knowing that you have Cam Newton in one of your leagues, but in another, you need him to have a bad game or your opponent will win. You’ll be looking at your phone, scrolling through all the permutations of possibilities. Instead of just wondering if they are going to hand off here, it becomes a matter of huge importance. 10 years ago, there would be no way to keep track of all of this second-by-second while watching multiple games. We’d check in later to see how things played out. Now you can be constantly part of the action.
Some people think this is a bad thing. It reduces the games to gambling-based algorithms. I don’t think so though. I think it can enhance it. Mobile tech allows us to participate in the games in an actual way, to have a stake beyond just happening to be born in one city instead of another (which is still, and always will be, the heart of sports). It turns every Sunday into a contest not just on the field, but with our friends and with strangers.
Imagine going into a bar on a Sunday afternoon as the games are starting. It’s you and a couple of friends. Instead of just focusing on the 49ers, you decide to enter a quick Daily Fantasy tournament, just the five of you, for just a few dollars. You can do that in a matter of minutes. Thanks to mobile tech, what was a fun Sunday becomes a great one, as every TV matters, and the trash talk and jokes fly everywhere. It allows us to be competitive, and not just passive viewers. Mobile tech brings us closer to sports, and makes us more part of the game.