Published September 7, 2012
Blessed again with a full preseason and sales cycle, fantasy football is recording historic levels of growth, generally exceeding the 10% annual spikes seen for much of the past decade. ESPN.com fantasy football registrations have grown 15% from '11, and its base of registered players has exceeded 5 million, double its mark from just four years ago. The company is believed to have joined only Yahoo in surpassing that threshold. NFL.com fantasy participation is up 40% from last year, albeit from a lower base. Many other smaller outfits are similarly recording year-over-year growth rates well in excess of 20%. Fantasy football content consumption also is up strongly. ESPN in particular said its fantasy football podcast featuring Matthew Berry averaged 593,000 downloads per show in August, up 118% from the same month in '11. "These have been probably the best six weeks in the history of the business," said RotoWire President & co-Founder Peter Schoenke. "Sales are up very strongly, and the fantasy football business has hit another gear even I didn't think it had." The return of a normal cycle for the business follows a lockout-fueled situation last year in which the business was essentially dormant until late July, roared quickly back to life following the new labor deal, and then settled into historically normal patterns. This year, fantasy football participation has expanded both in terms of breadth and depth, with many new players entering the market, and those returning to fantasy football often increasing the number of teams they manage.
: Mobile technology also has played a major role in the growth, as a wide variety of smartphone and tablet apps have significantly expanded how, where and when users play. ESPN's new iPad application for fantasy football last night ranked No. 2 among all free apps on iTunes, and previously held the top overall spot. "This really mirrors what's going on with the league generally," Berry said. "I don't think the growth of the NFL has stopped, and everybody who follows the NFL is a potential fantasy player."