From its humble beginnings in 1960s California, fantasy sport has become a worldwide phenomenon driven in recent years by the development of digital technology.
According to Fantasy Sport Trade Association, about 57 million Americans played fantasy NFL in 2015 and it’s expected that this number will rise to about 75 million in the next two seasons.
To put that into perspective, about 129 million people took part in the last US election, so you can see just how popular fantasy sport has become in the US.
Of course, in the UK and other countries around the world, the preferred option for fantasy sport fans is ‘proper’ football (or soccer as it’s known to Americans).
Celebrity enthusiasts include Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe who told USA Today’s ‘For The Win’ fantasy sports site that his team is called ‘Barkevious Mingo’s Mum’ which sounds like a pub Quiddich team.
Invented by a man called Wilfred Winkenbach in 1961, fantasy sport’s basic concept is easily adapted to a variety of sports.
According to their Facebook page, The Footie – Original Fantasy Football League: “The first game of fantasy football in Britain took place on 14th August 1971 and was created by a man called Bernie Donnelly.”
That concept is very simple. Applied to football, you get a certain budget, and with it you buy 11 players plus substitutes. The better the player, the more expensive they are.
Each week, the team you select will win or lose you points depending on their performances and actions. For example, if you’re playing Diego Costa and he scores a goal you’ll get points but if he gets a yellow card you will lose some.
With Costa, both are of course highly likely. Your earned points are then matched up against other players in your league. Some leagues are just for fun; others offer cash prizes.
Fantasy football gives you the chance to pit you football nous against both friends and strangers alike.
Can you be the manager who’s most successful at swapping players in and out of their team depending on the opposition, players’ form, injuries and disciplinary records?
It gives you a glimpse of what it’s like to be a team boss, but without the constant pressure of media scrutiny, criticism from ‘expert’ pundits and know-it-all fans, or interference from unreasonable chairmen.
The only stick you are likely to get is from your mates when that player you dropped to the bench in your team goes and scores a hat-trick, while his replacement gets sent off.
Choosing a fantasy sport
There’s a multitude of ways of playing fantasy sport in the UK, but clearly the most popular ones involve football.
The Premier league has its own official portal but there are also many newspapers such as The Mirror, The Sun, The Telegraph etc. which heave their own fantasy football leagues.
Which one you choose depends on which outlet you prefer, and possibly which one offers the best rewards for successful managers.
Yahoo provides Fantasy Sport games for cricket, golf, NBA and many others.
There are plenty of other websites. A lot of them will encourage you to bet on your players and teams.
While I’m neither for nor against gambling, if you find you have a knack for fantasy sport there could be some profit in it for you.
For those who are very passionate about football rivalries there can be a trap.
A few years ago, when Luis Suarez was still at Liverpool and scoring goals for fun, many rival fans hated him for it but also loved to have him in their teams earning points for them.
Countless Manchester United or Everton supporters didn’t know whether to love him or loathe him. Their confused and conflicted faces was a beautiful sight to behold.
Whatever your motivation for playing, fantasy sport has been here for a while now and is likely to just get bigger with more players signing up and more leagues available every year.
Whether it’s for fun, to beat your mates, or even – if you’re good enough and lucky enough – for profit, it immerses us in our favourite sports and brings out the manager/pundit/expert in all of us. Or not, depending on your score…