<em>“It’s just a fantasy, it’s not the real thing.</em>
<em>But sometimes a fantasy is all you need.”</em>
—From the song “Sometimes A Fantasy”, by Billy Joel.
The date was Monday, September 4th, 1989. Labor Day. I have a freakish mind when it comes to remembering dates; and this one sticks out in my memory. A friend, who I used to hang out with at a pool hall, invited me to participate in a fantasy football league with his co-workers. Few people back then knew of fantasy football. I found the premise highly intriguing. I accepted the invitation. That was dumb.
From the eight of us, I had the last pick in the 1st round. I chose John Elway. I doubled down on my idiocy by taking Herschel Walker with the first pick in the 2nd round. Neither one of them produced awe-inspiring numbers that season. I did show some semblance of football acumen when in week three I “signed” Don Majkowski. The “Majik Man” was the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers—the future of the franchise! He had a great year. It was his only great year.
The next year I formed my own league with friends from my neighborhood. Together, we were able to keep that league running for 20 years. I won the championship twice: 1995 and 1997. I will always remember watching Brett Favre—my quarterback, and the actual future of the Green Bay Packers—decimate the New Orleans Saints on a Saturday in our championship week game in ‘95. It sealed my first fantasy championship. It was better than sex.
Like with most psycho exes, I only recall the good times regarding fantasy football. I am willfully forgetting the pestilence of a 10 loss season, the bizarre injuries my best players suffered annually and the pathetic sight of me becoming physically sick when I would lose close games. After 20 years, I “retired.” Smart move.
The novelty of the hobby had long worn off for me. In the early 1990’s, before the full explosion of the Internet, fantasy football was a quirky exercise. There weren’t many fantasy football preview books. It was hardly mentioned during football telecasts. Heck, you did not even know who won your game until you picked up a <a href=”http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/newspaper?s=t” target=”_blank”>newspaper</a> the next morning. It was fun. But, like most things that can be exposed for a profit, the fun was sucked out of it.
With the Internet came the ability to participate in many leagues. Then the television networks saw the earning potential. Soon, you could not listen to any analysis of an upcoming game without the lede being the “fantasy value” of the players in that game. This ultimately lead to the exploitation of gambling addicts who could not fathom watching football without having “action” on every game.
Enter DraftKings and FanDuel.
These two websites are responsible for the proliferation of DFS: daily fantasy sports. The premise is remarkably simple. Instead of compiling a fantasy roster for an entire season, every week a rogue player can join a “league” and put together a team for that week only. A participant chooses players tiered off by talent and the potential they have for a big week. A “salary cap” is implemented to ensure that no participant just picks the very best players.
If you joined a DFS with a salary cap of $100,000, Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback for the Green Bay Packers (Columnist note: Yes, that is three Packer QB’s I have mentioned in one column) could be worth as much as $40,000 against your cap. Quarterbacks usually compile the most fantasy points and Rodgers is reliably one of the top quarterbacks in producing fantasy stats.
That means you have already given away 40% of your cap to a single player. You still have to choose two running backs, three wide receivers, a tight end, a kicker and an NFL team’s defense with only $60,000 in fantasy money at your disposal. In other words, you are pretty much stuck with the Oakland Raiders.
Once the points are accumulated for the week, whomever has the most is the winner. If you did not win, just pick a different team the next week. Harmless fun, right? Not if you are in a money league.
DraftKings and FanDuel offer free leagues so as to stay within the very technical definition of “not a gambling site.” The obnoxious truth is these websites make obscene amounts of money off of chumps who enter leagues where a fee is required. These leagues pay off those players who compiled the very best scores. The more you put in, the more you can, purportedly, win.
How much money is put into DFS websites? In 2014, over $1,000,000,000.
The problem for you, Mr. Joe Average, is that these websites are the hunting grounds for participants whose high bankrolls allow them to deluge the leagues you decide to enter. They use comprehensive data to know the best bets for any given day. Most recreational players just go on hunches to make their picks. They win, you lose. Sharks and minnows.
And, while no evidence is currently available to me, my guess is a large bulk of the novice participants are guys with a take home pay between $400 and $2k a week. These rubes are pitting themselves versus high stakes players. They have less then a 1% chance of winning any substantial money. They are suckers.
This July, the Sports Business Journal <a href=”http://www.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2015/07/27/Opinion/From-the-Field-of-Fantasy-Sports.aspx” target=”_blank”>published a column</a> that should be mandatory reading for anyone who is considering investing so much as $1 into DFS. The most profound statistic from this column is that 91% of the winnings from the first half of the 2015 Major League Baseball season went to only 1.3% of DFS participants. That wasn’t you, was it?
I saw this decades ago in Atlantic City. Tourists would sit down at a poker table naive to the fact that four of the guys at that table were colluding with each other. A tourist might have $200 to play at a cash table. The four sharks have thousands of dollars between them. Using intricate hand signals, the sharks would know when to raise every bet so as to lower the chances of Joe Average being able to stay in hands where his odds of winning were better. Later on, the four sharks would meet at a restaurant and divvy up the winnings evenly. Those not in the loop went home broke.
And in DFS, it was just a matter of time before hard evidence came to the fore suggesting these games were rigged. Stories have come out this week that employees of these DFS websites might have used “inside information” to win money. Shocking.
Now, Major League Baseball, which entered an agreement with DraftKings, wants to know if they are crooked. They did not ask when they took DraftKings’ check if this was a money grab? ESPN is going to curtail DraftKings exposure on its broadcasts. ESPN has become notorious for incessant product placement. They love to claim the moral high ground after a scandal that they cultivated and propagated comes home to roost.
And what are we schlubs that just want to watch a game left with? A plague of DFS television commercials wooing us with promises of quick fortunes. These ads bludgeoned sports viewers to the point of submissive numbness.
Can you imagine if DraftKings and Geico ever entered a partnership together? Try watching a game on TV with that Axis of Evil waiting to pounce on your frayed sensibilities.
DFS is a carny sideshow ripoff. If you invest money in this venture, you are a dolt who is asking to get shafted. People smarter than you figured out how readily you will be parted from your money. They get rich…and you wish a painful death on to the third-string tight end for the Cleveland Browns because he did not have the breakout game you predicted was imminent.
1989 seems so long ago. None of us who sat at the dining room table and picked football players based only on gut knowledge and personal bias knew the onslaught that was coming. I doubt we could have stopped the fantasy sports pandemic even if we did know what was to come to pass. Because the history of the world dictates to us that there is a sucker born every minute.