Monday, September 11, 2017

IT’S FANTASY FOOTBALL SEASON! - A giant business and the enemy of employee productivity

As we set our rear view mirrors on Labor Day, the pastimes of summer (and the abundance of sunshine) are receding day by day, hour by hour.  For many, this means an end to evening rounds of golf, weekends spent enjoying the lakes; and, for those—such as my grandmother—more serious about the fashion implications of the holiday weekend, the seasonal retirement of our white garments.

But with every end comes a new beginning, and, to millions of sports enthusiasts, the beginning of fall marks the advent of one of the most exciting times of the year –fantasy football season.  

Fantasy football is a game where individual participants or “owners” assemble an imaginary team of real professional football players into a “fantasy team”.  Fantasy Teams compete each week based on the statistical performance of the real players in actual games. While there are many fantasy football formats, most game types award points when players on a fantasy team catch or pass the football, run for yardage, score touchdowns, kick field goals, make interceptions . . . the list goes on and on. The objective is to accumulate more points than your competitor in any given week. A fantasy football season typically culminates in a playoff where the best teams go head to head to attain the glory of league champion (and in many cases a cash prize).

 Many people do not realize the incredible growth of fantasy football as a business enterprise during the past 30 years. Today, fantasy football is an $18.6 billion dollar industry.  Between 2003 and 2015 the number of fantasy football players grew 270% with more than 40 million people reporting that they played in 2015. That’s equivalent to 12 percent of the U.S. population.  The average participant spends over $465 per year on fantasy football and, according to Paul Charchian, the president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, 80% of today’s fantasy players fully intend to be playing a decade from now. These metrics represent a huge upside for those businesses that serve the fantasy football community.

In fact, fantasy football has given rise to entire genera of sports reporting focused solely on fantasy sports statistics/predictions, numerous online platforms that support every aspect of gameplay, daily leagues that tout outrageous prize payouts (some of which may be considered gambling, but that is a topic for another post), and a host of other ancillary businesses that provide all manner of fantasy sports services. 

While all this is good news for business, it may not be such good news for employers. According to the outplacement consulting firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, the fantasy football season could cost employers $16 billion in lost productivity due to employees managing their teams during business hours. In response, some employers go as far as to block access from work computers to popular fantasy football websites/platforms.  

As a fantasy football enthusiast, I’ve had fun participating in the growth of fantasy football over the years. Since high school, I have played in the same league, with the same people, and, while the stakes have certainly changed with our circumstances, the quest for glory has not. (I have been crowned league champion only once since our annual competition began over 10 years ago). 

With the arrival of fall, fantasy football has become a way to reconnect with old friends and engage in the gamesmanship, strategy, and jawing that make competition fun even when it is too cold (or dark) to compete outside.  That’s why, despite losing access to some of my most favorite summer activities, I always welcome the promise of an exciting fantasy football season that autumn brings. So, for those whose fantasy football season gets underway at kickoff this Thursday night – happy fall, good luck, and try not to spend too much time adjusting your starting lineup at work!

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