Paul Charchian made his first fantasy football pick as a sixth-grader in his Eden Prairie middle school cafeteria. He selected New York Giants rookie quarterback Phil Simms.
"Which tells you how little I knew about fantasy football," Charchian said. "I took a rookie quarterback as my first pick."
As illogical as that sounds today, Charchian is equally amazed at where his launch into fantasy sports ultimately would take him. He became a pioneer in the fantasy football industry and currently serves as president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
A University of Minnesota graduate with a journalism degree, Charchian co-founded Fantasy Football Weekly in 1993. The publication was loosely modeled after Pro Football Weekly and distributed in the Twin Cities the first year and then nationally. FFW provided in-season fantasy advice, statistics and injury updates.
"There was a need," he said.
Charchian estimates that 2 million people played fantasy football at the time. Information was scarce in those pre-Internet days, so his publication became a labor of love. Charchian used to call teams personally to inquire about injuries.
"It would be, 'Hi, Paul Charchian, Fantasy Football ...' Click. Hello? Hello?'" Charchian said, laughing.
The operation morphed into Fanball.com in 1997 and business exploded. The website provided content and managed leagues for fantasy players around the country. At its peak, Charchian said Fanball had roughly 500,000 users.
"The Internet completely opened the doors," he said.
Charchian and his business partners sold Fanball in 2005, though Charchian continued to work for Fanball for two more years. In 2008, he helped launch an online entry fee management site for fantasy sports called LeagueSafe.com. Charchian said his company has six full-time employees and has managed more than $10 million in fantasy league holdings since its inception.
Charchian, 45, also hosts a weekly two-hour fantasy show on KFAN Radio. Now in its 18th year, the show is one of the most downloaded sports podcasts on iTunes nationwide. Even though he helped steer the growth of fantasy football, Charchian said nobody could have predicted how big and lucrative the industry has become.
"Because you couldn't see the Internet coming," he said. "You never thought it would be a central way to meet people and automate all the scoring."