Fantasy Football now entertains 27 million people, playing an average of 9 hours a week, in an industry valued at around $800 million. (All numbers are pretty much surmise. See references below.)
It reminds me of the Dole plantation story. Apparently, Dole would create a lot of juice while canning pineapples, and then just throw the juice into the ocean. Someone had the wit to say, "er, could I have that?" Mixed drinks and the International House of Pancakes would never be the same.
Professional football was throwing off lots of numbers. At the end of any given Sunday, it was possible to discover not just the points scored by every team, but the yards gained by every back, the number of interceptions thrown by every quarterback, the number of sacks recorded by every defensive end. (In American sports, everything gets counted.)
These numbers were being tossed into the ocean, as it were. Someone (Bob Winkenbach, to be precise) said, "could I have those numbers?" and he turned one real league into a virtual league…and an industry worth $800 million.
Fantasy football fractures league play into individual player stats and these are welded into new bundles to be "owned" and managed by the sports fan. It is a little like an exercise in string theory. It asks what if these 30 players played not for their respective teams but together on one of these limitless Fantasy teams. There are many, many thousands of teams in Fantasy football. There are many alternate realities there. We are effectively testing the alternate Sundays of a Randy Moss or a Brett Favre.
This is how ferociously inventive our culture is. We can recycle the "waste products" of existing cultural productions into the stuff of entirely new cultural productions. (Thus did Eugene Pack and Dayle Reyfel make theater out of people reading the autobiographies of celebrities.) We know practice a kind of cultural alchemy, creating one thing from another, and extracting new value in the process.
We know that this is driven by a deeper culture trend, our wish, in this case, not merely to be passive sports fan but actually to act as owners and managers. Ours is an expansionary individualism. Now province of experience can be denied us. Nothing we find curious or engaging anyhow. And we get the usual tensions as noted in the Fringe post of a couple of days ago. Fans now find themselves torn between rooting for Favre as a Viking and against him because he is owned by a Fantasy league competitor.
It’s astounding that Winkenbach thought of Fantasy football. To fracture one reality and to build many other realities out of the pieces. Genius, really.
Anonymous. n.d., Fantasy Football. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fantasy_football_(American)
Bulmash, Greg. 2010. Fantasy Sports: The original social network. A Powerpoint deck on Slideshare. Aug. 19. http://www.slideshare.net/mobile/rtc123/fantasy-sports-the-original-social-network.
McCracken, Grant. 2010. Something out of nothing. The Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics. May 17. http://cultureby.com/2010/05/something-out-of-nothing-cultural-alchemy-in-a-celebrity-culture.html
Shontell, Alyson. 2010. “Fantasy Football Is An $800 Million Industry, But Who’s Profiting?.” Business Insider. http://www.businessinsider.com/fantasy-football-is-an-800-million-industry-but-whos-profiting-2010-9 (Accessed October 18, 2010).