Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Jones: The sad reality of playing fantasy sports

You can’t watch a sporting event these days without seeing commercials for the biggest daily fantasy businesses, FanDuel and Draft Kings, during every break.

Associated Press

You can’t watch a sporting event these days without seeing commercials for the biggest daily fantasy businesses, FanDuel and Draft Kings, during every break.

Full disclosure: Years ago, back before I got into this business, I played fantasy sports.

Fantasy football. Rotisserie baseball. NCAA basketball pools.

Fuller disclosure: I stopped. I stopped because I hated ever being in the position of rooting for a player and his team that, deep down, I didn't want to do well because he wasn't on my fantasy team.

And even fuller disclosure: Okay, I really stopped because I was lousy at it.

That brings us to the latest controversy in sports involving daily fantasy leagues, most notably FanDuel and Draft­Kings. You can't watch a sporting event these days without seeing commercials for these Internet-based leagues during every break. You put in money, pick a sport, put together a daily roster of players under a salary cap and compete against other players. If you finish high enough in the standings based on how your players perform that day, you win money. Lots of it, so say the commercials.

It's the best and worst thing to ever happen to sports.

It's also the saddest.

If I were to play daily fantasy sports, I guarantee I'd still be lousy at it. Or, a better way to put it, I would not be nearly as good as other people who play them.

Why? Like most of us, I would dedicate about five minutes throwing together a roster and I would be playing against people who spend hours upon hours studying spread sheets and looking at every detail, from weather to injuries, before carefully selecting their teams.

They're more dedicated and skilled at it than I would be.

New York is the latest state to challenge daily fantasy leagues, claiming the games constitute illegal gambling. Florida is considering the same things, and this week, a Pinellas County man filed a lawsuit accusing FanDuel and DraftKings of violating Florida's gambling laws.

The fantasy companies contend that their games are not gambling because they involve more skill than luck and they are protected by a federal law that make them legal.

The debate rages on. Some claim fantasy sports aren't a skill but gambling because you're betting on something that is out of your control. Example: Playing chess is a skill. Betting on someone who is playing chess is gambling.

But I see these leagues as most definitely a skill. Statistics have shown that a very small percentage of individuals make up nearly half of all entries, yet those same entries win nearly all the money. The New York Times, quoting the New York Attorney General's Office, said "the top 1 percent of DraftKings winners receive the vast majority of the winnings.''

In other words, the same people enter the most times and seem to be winning over and over. That would suggest hard work and skill are the ingredients for being successful. Essentially, they are professionals.

Daily fantasy companies have exploded seemingly overnight, and that explosion hasn't allowed anyone time to wrap their brains about what it all means. States want to regulate the companies and get a closer look at how much money they bring in and pay out. They want to make sure there is no funny business, something akin to insider trading. It also appears that states want a cut of the booming business. If considered gambling and subject to state gaming laws, daily fantasy companies would have to pay states to operate in them.

Meantime, sports leagues and teams are in relationships with FanDuel and Draft­Kings, signing huge sponsorship and advertising deals.

It's all one big intertwined mess, and it's all kind of sad when you think about it.

Millions are playing daily and yearly fantasy games, and many are more concerned about their teams with the goofy names — the Brady Gagas, Discount Belicheck, the Red Hot Julius Peppers — than real teams like the Packers, Bengals and 49ers. For many, football exists simply for fantasy and gambling.

Attendance is dropping rapidly in the NFL. Last season the NFL average game drew 64,698, the lowest figure since 1998. Yet, television ratings are through the roof, with the NFL typically slaying every other program on television.

Many factors could be involved, including rising ticket costs and other economic reasons. But don't underestimate the power of fantasy games. Many fans would rather stay home and keep track of all the NFL games instead of going to the stadium and watching one game. That's partly why many teams, including the Bucs, have installed free Wi-Fi in stadiums to allow fans to keep track of other games (i.e. players on the fans' fantasy teams).

In addition, if you're looking for reasons why the NFL is more popular than every other sport in this country, I would list wagering near the top.

But it makes me wonder: Don't fantasy games take the joy out of sports? What happened to just rooting for sports the old-fashioned way? What happened to rooting for the local team because it's your team?

Say you live here in the Tampa Bay area and you've been a lifelong Bucs fans. Your Bucs lead the Saints by four points with five seconds left. But your fantasy quarterback is Drew Brees of the Saints. Brees drops back and lofts a pass to the corner of the end zone. If it's complete, you win a couple hundred bucks. If it's not, your Bucs win.

What do you want to have happen?

Seems like neither would make you truly and completely happy.

And that's kind of sad.

Jones: The sad reality of playing fantasy sports 11/12/15 [Last modified: Thursday, November 12, 2015 9:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Rays morning after: A lot that went into a marathon win


    Rays manager Kevin Cash had a simple strategy when Fox Sports Sun's Alex Corddry asked him how the team would move on from Sunday's marathon win and get ready to face the Rangers tonight in Texas:

    Kevin Kiermaier of the Rays celebrates as teammate Michael Martinez slides safely into home plate to score a run against the Minnesota Twins during the 14th inning.
  2. Rays journal: Erasmo Ramirez ready to start a day after closing game

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — RHP Erasmo Ramirez was on the mound to finish Sunday's 15-inning marathon win over the Twins and will start tonight's game against the Rangers.

    The Rays’ Erasmo Ramirez throws 12 pitches in the 15th inning against the Twins to earn the save then says after the game that he’s ready to make his scheduled start against the Rangers: “My arm feels good.”
  3. Rays exhausted but happy after 15-inning win over Twins (w/video)

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — Before the Rays eventually won Sunday's 6½-hour, 15-inning marathon against the Twins 8-6, they did plenty to lose it. And we need to get that out of the way first.

    The Rays’ Evan Longoria enjoys a laugh after scoring, barely, to tie it in the ninth on Steven Souza Jr.’s two-out single.
  4. Tom Jones' Two Cents: ABC's Indy 500 coverage is stellar again

    TV and Radio

    Times columnist Tom Jones looks back at the best and worst from a weekend of televised sports.

    Best coverage

    Takuma Sato left, celebrates after winning the Indianapolis 500 as Helio Castroneves is a little late passing him. ABC’s coverage of the race is stellar throughout, with plenty of extras but no fake drama.
  5. Takuma Sato surprise winner of wreck-filled Indy 500

    Auto racing

    INDIANAPOLIS — Takuma Sato, a journeyman driver, became the first Japanese winner of the Indianapolis 500 on Sunday when he held off three-time champion Helio Castroneves in a 230-mph wheel-rubbing duel to the finish.

    Scott Dixon’s car goes over the top of Jay Howard, soaring so high that Helio Castroneves drove under it while it was airborne. Stunningly, there were no serious injuries.