The turn of the century has brought a turn of perspective in the sports landscape. With virtual games like fantasy football hosting more than 45 million people and billions of dollars every year being spent on betting sites, stakes at a professional ballgame extend far greater than the professional players on the court. But with this new wave of media-heavy sports consumption, how is the spirit of the game faring?
As an avid fantasy football fanatic since my elementary days, the cashless leagues with friends and family have become a beloved tradition that I look forward to each year. The leagues have given me a responsibility and personalized approach to the sport and each week becomes more competitive. These thoughts are shared by Walt Whitman High School sophomore Santiago Trujillo, who plays fantasy Premier League with a group of friends.
“I enjoy the competition, especially amongst my friends,” Trujillo said, “Overall, it definitely enhances my viewing experience.”
The idea of watching more games when involved in fantasy is not unique to Santiago. In fact, Todd M. Nesbit of Ball State University conducted a study back in 2010 which found that fantasy baseball players watched 1.12 to 2.85 more games per week than non-fantasy fans, with fantasy football participants estimated to watch 0.59 to 1.07 more games per week. This increase in popularity not only makes a particular sport more enjoyable to a fan, but the league itself. The more viewership, the more money, exposure and attention that league and its players get.
From a professional standpoint, fantasy and sports gambling have been acknowledged and frowned upon by members of the most prestigious leagues in the world. In a federal court statement, Bud Selig, who was the MLB commissioner from 1998 to 2015, claimed that with daily fantasy sports, “players would not be viewed by fans as exceptionally skilled and talented competitors but as mere assets to be exploited for fast money.”
These viewpoints are especially common for more traditional fans of the game, who grew up without the creation of the internet, social media or fantasy sites which are all second to none in the sports world nowadays. They are also shared, however, with players within these leagues, including outspoken NFL cornerback Richard Sherman.
According to Bleacher Report, during a postgame interview in 2017, Sherman expressed how fans don’t think about the mental, physical and emotional state of a player getting injured anymore, which usually requires months of long, tough rehab. Instead, he suggests, fans are thinking, “Oh, man, he’s messing up my fantasy team.” While this doesn’t extend to all fantasy fans, it is certainly true that players are aware of these fantasy fans who are allowed to express their voice directly on social media platforms.
As the famous saying goes, “Mo Money, Mo Problems.” That can certainly be applicable when talking about the fantasy sports community. While money free leagues are competitive, they aren’t as lucrative as ones with prizes at their end. Betting five dollars on the nightly basketball game with some friends is not where the problem occurs. Rather, it is when people get so invested in the dollars that they keep coming back, unable to watch a game without splurging cash.
Gambling addiction is a severe problem globally, clearly defined by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG). They have found that 2-3% of Americans meet the criteria for problem gambling, which equates to around 6 million adults and over 500,000 teens. This addiction is heavily linked to alcohol abuse and depression and leaves a major hole in the economy. The NCPG estimates the yearly expenses of gambling and its consequences is $17 billion. As simple and innocuous as it might appear, sports betting can be a dangerous avenue for many people; especially younger generations who are more vulnerable to addiction.
So, when it’s all said and done, what is the net impact of fantasy and betting on the sports world? At the end of the day, it’s up for you to decide. There are clear benefits of being involved in fantasy sports, and it can certainly be done in a rewarding manner. On the other hand, it can often neglect the humanity of players and remove the aspect of supporting a team, an essential part of sports culture.
In my opinion, fantasy sports are a very innovative, fun way to get involved with sports you love watching. However, don’t get too invested in the money or the players on your screen, or else we start forgetting about the humans playing the game.