Over 18.3 million people a day play fantasy football during the workweek and spend at least two hours per week managing their team. Over the course of the 15-week fantasy season this amounts to $13.4 billion in lost productivity or $895 million per week, using the non-farming average earning of $24.45 an hour.
Fantasy football has followed in the steps of fantasy baseball by going mobile with fantasy sports apps that allow people to change their lineups anytime during the day. Stephen Jupinka, who has made over $240,000 playing competitive fantasy football and baseball, believes that fantasy sports apps will increase productivity because people no longer have to be at the computer to make changes. Also, rule changes, like the 10 p.m. Wednesday night deadline for Thursday games, have helped give people plenty of time to fix their lineups. Even then, Jupinka admits: “Everybody is working on the computer and you got your browser up and the temptation to read the latest news is just a click away.”
Brad Plumer, senior editor of Vox, wrote in the Washington Post that we ought to not take lost productivity statistics too seriously. Alcohol consumption costs the U.S. economy $220 billion, parents stressed out about child cares costs $300 billion, changing computer passwords costs about $16 billion, and the NCAA Tournament costs $134 million. Adding up over 14 of these variables, Plumer found that $1.8 trillion per year is lost to America’s “vices, distractions and health problems.” Jack Shafer, Slate’s editor at large, believes that these figures are all “bogus” because people would be slacking off anyway — instead of spending time taking an extended coffee run to Starbucks, people are reading USA TODAY for fantasy facts. Also, John Challenger, CEO of Challenger, Gray, and Christmas, said that banning fantasy sports causes a decreases in moral, productivity and employee retention.
Managers and companies may be concerned about real or perceived lost productivity, but a very real concern is fantasy football’s effect on the NFL. Congress has decided fantasy football is not gambling because: “It has an outcome that reflects the relative knowledge of the participants, or their skill at physical reaction or physical manipulation (but not chance), and, in the case of a fantasy or simulation sports game, has an outcome that is determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of sporting events.”
Basically, this means fantasy football is a game of skill rather than chance. How it is different than high-stakes poker is another mystery. Peter King, author for TheMMQB.com, found that coaches and players have felt the effects of big-money fantasy players during training camp this season. This is not surprising when FanDuel and Draftday, two popular pay-to-play sites, claim to distribute $3 million and $5 million in payouts.
The NFL has been paying attention to high-stakes fantasy football leagues because coaches and players could be bribed to be to gain fantasy points and six-figure payouts. Imagine an assistant coach favoring one wide receiver or a safety “missing” a tackle to score massive fantasy points and an even larger payout after the game. Fantasy football may negatively effect the economy, but it has grown into a $4 billion industry — which is about half of the value of the NFL itself — and could have a dramatic impact on the future of NFL and its fans.