Fantasy football industry welcomes the reality of a new season
After a lockout-induced hiatus, the fantasy football industry roared back to life last week and is now eyeing another increase in user participation and revenue.
During the four-month NFL lockout, few fantasy football operators made any significant efforts to sign up users. Many print magazines, such as the influential Fantasy Football Index and ESPN’s special fantasy preview edition, did not go to press due to the uncertain situation, forgoing newsstand sales and advertising revenue.
But with a new collective-bargaining agreement now in line, fantasy sites last week were reporting major spikes in traffic and registration. CBSSports.com generated its biggest fantasy product sales day of the year on July 25, with sales of league and draft kits more than 10 times the level of the prior week. ESPN reported a fivefold increase in fantasy league sign-ups immediately after the labor agreement was reached.
Overall, industry executives believe the 32 million people estimated in June by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association to be playing fantasy sports, primarily football, may prove to be a conservative number.
“The fantasy industry has been steadily growing at about 10 percent a year for a while, and we should definitely hit that again this year and then some. And really, with this offseason so frenetic and compressed, I believe you actually create even more fan interest. It’s easier for the casual fan to get involved now,” said Greg Ambrosius, general manager of consumer fantasy games for Stats LLC and founder of the National Fantasy Football Championship. “Everybody was simply waiting for assurance the season was going to happen, and now that it is, they’ve coming flooding back.”
Gross revenue from fantasy football in the United States and Canada is estimated at more than $1 billion per year. The variety of fantasy entities that could have been further affected by a lengthy NFL work stoppage includes operators of both paid and free leagues, fantasy content publishers, high-stakes event producers, fantasy product vendors, and even bars and restaurants that cater heavily to fantasy players.
With NFL team rosters now in a state of heavy flux, many executives said the need for quality fantasy content has never been as acute. And with fantasy preview print magazines largely absent, electronic draft kits will be the key piece of content most fantasy operators will sell to help fans prepare for their drafts.
“Every bit of information is going to be crucial, not only during this sprint to opening day, but into the season,” said Jason Waram, ESPN Digital Media’s vice president of fantasy games and social media. “We’re already seeing big spikes in our editorial traffic around fantasy.”
Advertising sales around fantasy football are also seeing a quick rebound, many executives said.
“A lot of deals were simply in a holding pattern,” said Jason Kint, CBSSports.com senior vice president and general manager. “But the sponsors were simply like the fans: Now that there’s a season, things are happening fast and the market is moving very quickly.”