Playing in a fantasy world

  • Article by: CHIP SCOGGINS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 19, 2012 - 6:36 AM

Fantasy football players come in all shapes, sizes and genders. What draws them in? The competition, money and camaraderie.


(left to right-front row-in NFL jerseys) Tom Chandler of Inver Grove Heights, Kenny Cruzen of Minneapolis, Patrick Wirkus of Inver Grove Heights and Zach Cruzen of Minneapolis attended a fantasy football camp at Sneaky Pete's in downtown Minneapolis. The bar was packed with 400 to 500 fans of fantasy football.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

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Lara Mord and Diedra Geye found a spot at the bar in a downtown Minneapolis establishment on a perfect Saturday afternoon. They talked and laughed as good friends do, but they came primarily for business.

They craved fantasy football insight from experts at a four-hour fantasy boot camp in preparation for their league draft.

"We do a lot of research," Mord said.

They aren't alone. Fantasy football is played by 36 million people in the United States and Canada, according to Paul Charchian, president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

Fantasy football has mushroomed into a billion-dollar enterprise that attracts a diverse swath of the population. Charchian estimates the industry adds two million new players every year and that women now make up 20 percent of leagues. The fastest growing demographic is 18-and-under as more parents introduce their kids to fantasy football.

Hundreds of players -- men and women, young and old -- attended a fantasy camp hosted by Charchian and a panel of analysts who offered tips and suggestions as fans, armed with laptops and notebooks, consumed their words like gospel.

One segment focused on running back "sleepers." Panelist Christian Peterson presented research on "lightly regarded running backs who thrive in zone blocking schemes." That microscopic detail underscores how sophisticated fantasy players have become.

"You have to dig way deeper to try and find angles and some insight," Charchian said.

Computer sport

The fantasy football boom coincided with the birth of the Internet, which made fantasy teams easier to manage while allowing family, friends and college buddies to connect more effectively. High traffic dot-com outlets such as ESPN, CBSSports and Yahoo! devote considerable resources to assist in league operation and glean statistical analysis, injury news and draft advice from fantasy "experts."

The NFL embraced fantasy's mainstream appeal in the mid-2000s and launched its own platform on in 2010. The league recently held its first NFL Fantasy Draft Week in New York, which included appearances by Commissioner Roger Goodell and several Hall of Fame players.

Fantasy football has contributed significantly to the NFL's soaring popularity and TV ratings success. More people share a rooting interest in the league because they're emotionally (and financially) invested in the weekly performance of their fantasy team. That helps drive various NFL media platforms such as DirecTV's Sunday Ticket and NFL RedZone. Studies show that a majority of fantasy players use multiple screens while watching games, typically a TV, laptop and a tablet or iPhone.

"Fantasy owners consume twice as much televised football as their sport-loving counterparts who don't play fantasy," Charchian said. "These are super-consumers."

They come from all walks of life. Fridley native Noel Thompson formed a league made up of youth children's pastors and ministers in California. Eagan resident Glenn Hamilton plays in a league with fellow air traffic controllers around the country (their league name: FAA Interservice Area Coalition). Beth Rohde of Lino Lakes was selected randomly for an all-Twitter league organized by the brother of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers last season.

Back to basics

Bloomington native Michelle Battles started an all-female league with friends and co-workers in Los Angeles. Her group included a few women who knew nothing about football, so Battles held a party and conducted a power-point presentation on Football 101.

"Everything from the basics of, 'There are 32 teams in the NFL, they play 16 games, QB stands for quarterback, what a running back does,'" Battles said.

Tom Carr grew up in Blaine and helped form a fantasy league comprised strictly of punk bands in the Las Vegas music scene.

"It's a weekly contest where you have no control over it," said Carr, a guitarist for a band called The Quitters, "but yet you get to destroy your buddy."

Adrian Peterson doesn't play fantasy football, but the Vikings star running back hears from people who do "every day." Fantasy players inundated Peterson's Twitter feed this summer looking for updates on his progress from knee surgery. Peterson thinks it's "cool" that people draft him in leagues, but he admits some become overzealous in their pursuit for inside information.

"I don't pay attention to it to the point where I get involved and give guys [injury] information," he said. "You've got some crazy fans on there. If you don't give them the type of information they want, they'll go left field on you with some of the stuff they say. It's like, 'Wow, fantasy football is this important?'"

'Until they die'

Charchian offers one stat to illustrate fantasy football's grip on fans.

"Eighty percent of current fantasy players plan to play for at least a decade more," he said. "Half of them plan to play until they die."

Fantasy players devour analysis before drafts. Geye listens to Charchian's two-hour fantasy show every Saturday on KFAN to stay current on fantasy news. She and Mord took copious notes at Charchian's fantasy camp.

Mord started their league 12 years ago because the men in her husband's league had a strict no-female policy. Her league is co-ed and has become a social hub.

"I'm competitive and I like to win," Mord said. "And I like to beat the boys."

The social component drives interest and allows people to stay connected across time and distance.

"I always call fantasy the first social network because it brings friends together," said Cory Mummery, director of NFL Fantasy.

Most leagues also offer a financial prize for winning. The average league entry fee is $70 across all fantasy sports, but players are attracted by competition as well.

"It gives you that little edge for a game that you normally wouldn't care about," said Hamilton, who has played in his air traffic controller league since 2005. "All of a sudden, you're rooting for Eli Manning to throw that touchdown on Monday night because you need it."

Drafting the enemy

Sometimes that creates a dilemma. Thompson, the youth minister, has an outline of the state of Minnesota tattooed on his right arm and is a diehard Vikings fan. But he drafted Rodgers last season when the Packers quarterback "kind of fell in my lap."

"I said, 'Man, I'd be crazy not to draft him,'" Thompson said. "When they played the Vikings, I said I hope the Vikings win 100-99."

Fantasy football occasionally carries deeper personal significance, too.

Brian Szulczewski served as commissioner of a fantasy league at a Twin Cities restaurant where he worked as a bartender for 25 years. In 2006, he suffered a brain aneurysm and died 10 days before his 50th birthday.

"When the league found out about his death, a bunch of them wanted to end the league because Brian was the heart and soul of it," said Brian's sister, Sue.

Instead, one of the owners invited Sue to continue Brian's team in his memory. She accepted and won their league the following season. Team owners share stories and memories of Brian every year during their draft.

"It's a fellowship of people and a common interest," Sue said. "I'm grateful that they asked me to continue on by taking over his team to keep the league going."



Million fantasy football players in the U.S. and Canada


Percentage of fantasy football players who are female


Average entry fee for all fantasy sports leagues

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San Diego 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
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Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
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New York 90
Portland 6:00 PM
New Orleans
Utah 6:00 PM
Atlanta 7:00 PM
San Antonio 7:30 PM
Indiana 8:00 PM
Milwaukee 9:30 PM
LA Clippers
Arizona 0 1st Prd 20:00
Los Angeles 0
Colorado 6:00 PM
Philadelphia 6:00 PM
Ottawa 6:00 PM
Washington 6:00 PM
New Jersey
Tampa Bay 6:00 PM
NY Islanders
Florida 6:00 PM
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Chicago 6:00 PM
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Calgary 9:00 PM
St. Louis 9:30 PM
San Jose
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Cincinnati 47
Charlotte 78 FINAL
Georgetown 81
Michigan 51
Louisville 76 FINAL
Western Ky 67
Mount St Marys 45 FINAL
American Univ 46
Abilene Christian 33 FINAL
Boise State 77
UMass Lowell 63 FINAL
Duquesne 79
South Alabama 65 FINAL
Ohio State 74 FINAL
North Carolina 82
Massachusetts 65 FINAL
Providence 85
Syracuse 77 FINAL
Villanova 82
Citadel 61 FINAL
Virginia Tech 64
Belmont 73 FINAL
Fairfield 61
St Bonaventure 69 FINAL
Binghamton 51
Montreat 64 FINAL
Campbell 90
Delaware 74 FINAL
Fair-Dickinson 76
South Florida 62 FINAL
Florida State 75
Vanderbilt 60 FINAL
Georgia Tech 65
SC State 71 FINAL
Houston 63
Missouri 59 FINAL
Illinois 62
Truett-McConnell 55 FINAL
Jacksonville 84
Toledo 83 FINAL
McNeese State 69
Elon 69 2nd Half 0:06
UNC Greensboro 64
Drexel 66 2nd Half 0:10
Penn State 71
St Francis-PA 73 FINAL
Rutgers 68
Albany 64 FINAL
Yale 60
PSU-Beaver 74 FINAL
Longwood 106
Eastern Ill 60 FINAL
Indiana State 56
Indiana 65 2nd Half 7:53
Butler 61
Marshall 36 2nd Half 16:35
Arkansas State 31
Lafayette 37 2nd Half 15:45
Kansas 51
Oral Roberts 28 2nd Half
Memphis 35
Western Mich 28 2nd Half
Northwestern 25
Delaware State 29 2nd Half 19:00
Oregon 38
Fla Atlantic 32 2nd Half 15:28
St Francis-NY 33
Arkansas Tech 30 2nd Half 16:53
Stephen F Austin 57
Howard Payne 31 2nd Half 15:43
Texas-Arlington 52
UMBC 45 2nd Half 14:45
Kennesaw St 40
St Josephs (IN) 22 2nd Half
Chicago State 23
Eastern Mich 35 2nd Half 17:29
Missouri State 23
UCLA 2 1st Half 7:41
Kentucky 28
UC Davis 3:00 PM
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Houston Baptist 3 1st Half 19:00
UC Riverside 0
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Coll of Charleston 5
USC Upstate 4 1st Half 15:34
Miss State 3
NC Central 3:00 PM
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Murray State
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Northwestern St 5
Oakland 2 1st Half 18:02
Pittsburgh 3
Detroit 0 1st Half 20:00
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Iowa State 4:00 PM
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High Point 4:00 PM
James Madison
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Michigan State
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Santa Clara
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Texas State
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Notre Dame
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Sam Houston St
Xavier 5:00 PM
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NJIT 6:00 PM
Central Conn St
Hofstra 6:00 PM
Boston Univ 6:00 PM
Iona 6:00 PM
George Mason
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IUPU-Ft Wayne
Texas A&M 6:00 PM
Kansas State
Morgan State 6:00 PM
Saint Josephs 6:00 PM
East Carolina 6:00 PM
Richmond 6:00 PM
La Salle 6:00 PM
Incarnate Word 6:05 PM
CS-Bakersfield 6:30 PM
Idaho State
Iowa 6:30 PM
Northern Iowa
Milwaukee 6:30 PM
SIU Edwardsville
Long Beach State 7:00 PM
TX-San Antonio 7:00 PM
SE Missouri St 7:30 PM
Lehigh 8:00 PM
Arizona State
New Mexico 8:00 PM
New Mexico St
Oklahoma 8:00 PM
Utah Valley U 8:00 PM
Weber State
Jacksonville St 8:00 PM
Northern Colorado
St Edwards 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon
NC State 8:30 PM
West Virginia
TX A&M-CC 9:00 PM
Cal Poly 9:00 PM
Fresno State 9:00 PM
Montana State 9:00 PM
Ball State 9:00 PM
San Diego St
South Dakota St 9:05 PM
Utah State
Stanford 10:00 PM
Utah 10:30 PM
Nevada 3 FINAL
Louisiana 16
Utah State 7 3rd Qtr
Texas-El Paso 3
(23) Utah 14 1st Qtr 5:42
Colorado State 7
Western Mich 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
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Northern Ill
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San Diego St
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(15) Arizona State
Miami-Florida 12/27/14 3:00 PM
So Carolina
Boston College 12/27/14 3:30 PM
Penn State
(25) Nebraska 12/27/14 7:00 PM
(24) USC
Livingstone 77 FINAL
UNC Greensboro 81
Loyola-Chicago 58 FINAL
Dartmouth 70
Georgia Tech 65 FINAL
St Francis-NY 59
Auburn 49 FINAL
St Johns 56
East Tenn St 56 FINAL
Jacksonville St 57
Western Mich 71 FINAL
Detroit 57
Cal-Irvine 42 FINAL
Wright State 80
Gardner-Webb 47 FINAL
Kennesaw St 50
(7) Stanford 40 FINAL
(11) Tennessee 59
Alabama A&M 47 FINAL
Ole Miss 71
Central Michigan 45 FINAL
(1) South Carolina 80
Nebraska Omaha 50 FINAL
Creighton 67
Western Carolina 83
Houston 65 FINAL
Nicholls 47
St Thomas Aquinas 45 FINAL
Army 70
St Bonaventure 72 FINAL
Niagara 60
Texas State 57 FINAL
Stetson 75
George Mason 65 FINAL
ULM 53
Grambling 38 FINAL
Kansas State 61
Missouri 79 FINAL
Wake Forest 64
Robert Morris 59 FINAL
Cornell 70
Air Force 44 FINAL
Abilene Christian 80
Hampton 53 FINAL
James Madison 85
American Univ 64 FINAL
MD-Eastern Shore 52
Texas Southern 63 FINAL
TX A&M-CC 68
Tenn Tech 49 FINAL
NC A&T 54
Presbyterian 45 FINAL
NC Central 33
Penn 58 FINAL
Drexel 67
Lipscomb 38 FINAL
Xavier 62
Vermont 40 FINAL
Green Bay 60
Ohio Christian 62 FINAL
Akron 97
Jacksonville 62 FINAL
Murray State 80
(17) Rutgers 66 FINAL
Iona 58
Indiana 88 FINAL
Oakland 61
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UNC-Wilmington 55
Indiana State 50 2nd Half 5:29
SMU 40
Denver 43 2nd Half 4:37
Purdue 55
TX-San Antonio 22 1st Half 1:00
Texas Tech 22
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Middle Tennessee 37
Campbell 35 2nd Half
Bethune-Cookman 26
Florida A&M 32 2nd Half
SE Louisiana 21
Northwestern St 28 2nd Half 18:39
Jackson State 23
Lehigh 37 2nd Half 15:57
Arizona State 54
Valparaiso 32 2nd Half
SIU-Edwardsville 28
Liberty 19 1st Half 6:40
Minnesota 24
Wofford 21 1st Half 1:44
North Florida 34
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Prairie View 3:00 PM
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Washington St 5
Marshall 2 1st Half 17:26
(22) West Virginia 2
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Harvard 4
Furman 5 1st Half 15:38
(15) Georgia 6
(18) Michigan State 11 1st Half 15:00
(9) Baylor 6
Ohio U 2 1st Half 17:56
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Delaware 6:00 PM
Troy 6:00 PM
Tennessee St
Saint Louis 6:30 PM
Utah Valley U
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Pacific 7:00 PM
Long Beach St
Old Dominion 7:00 PM
Austin Peay 9:00 PM
Lewis-Clark State 9:00 PM
(21) Miss State 9:30 PM
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