Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jones: The sad reality of playing fantasy sports

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.

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