A rich fantasy life is important, but a fantasy life that drains your riches is, in this particular economy, perhaps not the greatest idea. And yet there you are if you count yourself among the millions of Americans who indulge in fantasy football spending your hard-earned money and precious time pretending to be an NFL general manager. Tom Brady is not really on your team, my sweet dare I say deluded? friend. Your draft decisions don't affect reality. They only, sadly, bore your nonfantasy friends.
You would think that the recession could sack fantasy sports, the $800 million industry in which participants select real pros for their make-believe teams and potentially take home some dough if those players perform. But even in this harshest of realities, fantasy is doing just fine. There are 30 million fantasy players in the U.S. and Canada, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, a 54% increase from two years ago.
Another fantasy tracker reports that on average, players are paying $73 to join football leagues this year, compared with $59 last year; despite the economic downturn, leagues are upping their entry fees and their cash prizes. Meanwhile, as companies are slashing ad budgets in most places, they are pouring funds into fantasy sites. Fantasy Sports Ventures, which owns or sells advertising for some 500 such sites, has seen revenue double year over year. Says CEO Chris Russo: "Companies want access to an audience that's passionate and engaged."
Not to mention pretty well-off. Fantasy-football players have an average household income of $81,000. The higher disposable-income level for fantasy geeks helps explain the industry's resiliency. Plus, fantasy can serve as a much needed social escape during tough times. If your job situation gets you down, draft day with your friends can help lift you up.
But is this fantasy fix healthy for America? According to a recent estimate, fantasy football drains $9 billion out of workplace productivity. Plus, our obsession keeps getting stranger. For example, 11 big-city mayors from across the country are competing against one another for charity in a Yahoo! fantasy-football league this year. And they're really getting into it, which is great, because if there's one thing struggling cities like Buffalo, N.Y., and Oakland, Calif., need, it's their mayors debating a tight-end swap between budget meetings.
"This new skill that I'm acquiring in drafting players you never know when it might come in handy," says Pam Iorio, mayor of Tampa, Fla. And how, precisely, might her fantasy prowess help her with her day job? "I'm not sure yet," she says.
Like most fantasy fans, Iorio eventually comes up with a reason to justify playing: she says the game will aid her talent-evaluation skills.