SBJ/October 21 - 27, 2002/Special Report

NFL, other leagues find fantasy players like to watch

The NFL Web site has given top billing
to fantasy football.

In seasons past, nfl.com would use its top story to dissect Kurt Warner's passing or the Baltimore Ravens' defense. Not this year.

For the first time, "Fantasy" is the first link listed on the league Web site's navigational bar, positioned above such standards as "News" and "Rosters." Inside, experts offer advice on how fans can win their make-believe Super Bowl.

Late last month, NFL fantasy football expert Gil Brandt, who revolutionized the sport by computerizing scouting for the Dallas Cowboys, led the league home page with his thoughts on that week's matchups to exploit.

The emphasis is not by coincidence. An online survey found that fans who play fantasy football are more likely to tune into NFL games on television, including contests they'd usually avoid.

Fantasy's impact on ratings, in turn, could deliver more rights revenue to the NFL when its TV contracts expire in 2005. Maybe for that reason, other leagues have taken notice. The NHL increased its fantasy offerings on nhl.com sevenfold this year.

"We drive them to ESPN broadcasts and get them beyond their local team," said Doug Perlman, senior vice president of television and media ventures for the NHL.

NASCAR vice president of broadcasting Paul Brooks said nascar.com is looking to increase its fantasy offerings next year.

"I think fantasy leagues can go a long way [in driving TV ratings]," he said.

The NFL's online survey was conducted among about 1,400 men this past off-season. Fantasy players said they watched 8.4 hours worth of NFL programming per week, almost two hours more than the average male surveyed.

There are 1.6 million fantasy players who participate in fantasy games on nfl.com, up from 1 million during the 2001 season. Since all the fantasy games — including two new ones this year — are free, they're not a subscription revenue driver for the NFL. The league does, though, have a fantasy sponsor, Coors Light.

Aside from the fantasy players, countless others turn to the site for the latest information on player matchups, injuries or strategy. NFL.com attracts as many as 8 million unique visitors a month during the season, according to comScore Media Metrix.

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