Denver Broncos fans were not the only people thrilled with the team’s 49-27 blowout victory over the Baltimore Ravens in the National Football League season opener Thursday night. Thousands of fantasy football team “owners” who drafted Denver quarterback Peyton Manning profited from the 37-year-old’s record-setting performance: seven touchdowns and 462 passing yards. Manning’s career game was one of the best performances by a single player in fantasy football history. With tens of millions of participants in the United States alone, online fantasy football kicked off its second season as a billion-dollar industry.
The NFL has profited the most during the rise of this internet phenomenon, using it as a tool to increase revenue and to draw young fans into purchasing tickets and merchandise.
“As soon as [fans] start playing fantasy football, we find they become more attached to the league as a whole,” said NFL executive Cory Mummery. “We just want the fantasy industry, as a whole, to grow as big as possible.”
With dozens of websites and smartphone applications dedicated to fantasy football, users can access their teams wherever they are. Games can be played for free or with entry fees with a chance to win cash prizes up to tens of thousands of dollars—and those with money to lose can now buy insurance to recover losses if a key player gets injured. (According to National Public Radio, one man quit his job to become a full-time fantasy sports player, gambling thousands a day during the football season.)
“People don’t quit,” said Paul Charchian, president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. “We have also seen enormous growth in the under-18 player demo, which is our fastest-growing population. This is in part because parents have been playing long enough to have kids old enough to play, and also because kids are now forming their own leagues in their school cafeterias.”
While all this fantasy gaming is good for NFL-related business, many companies are worried their employees will spend less time working and more time updating their fantasy teams. One study by Challenger, Gray and Christmas Inc. estimates businesses will lose more than $1 billion a week during the season because of fantasy football play in the workplace.