Fantasy sports as a whole are hugely popular across the whole world. The USA has the largest number of active players involved in fantasy sports leagues with grid-iron and baseball taking up most of the action. In Europe, football is the most popular of the fantasy sports available, and in India, perhaps not surprisingly, it is cricket.
In 2018 there were nearly 60 million fantasy sports players in the US but this number dropped in 2019 going into 2020 as sports events and leagues were suspended and canceled. Now, as the pandemic restrictions are eased in some regions and countries, a type of normality is returning to the sporting world, and with it, to fantasy sports leagues too.
When you consider the popularity of fantasy sports, it is interesting to see how fantasy football came about, and also to wonder where it will head in the future.
How did fantasy sports begin?
There is a school of thought that says the first instance of a fantasy sport was back in 1951 with baseball. Dick Seitz introduced a board game called American Professional Baseball Association to the American market. Every year players could buy a new pack of cards containing the stats for the ball-players previous season.
Flash forward to 1980 and the first fantasy baseball league was formed in a Manhattan restaurant called Le Rotisserie Francais. This is why you might hear the names rotisserie sports or rotisserie baseball sometimes.
It was in 1962 though, that most people agree the first true fantasy sports league was started. A part-owner of the Oakland Raiders, along with a group of like-minded individuals formed the rather unlikely named Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League.
This set the stage for numerous other rotisserie or fantasy sports to follow including hockey, cricket, tennis, golf, basketball, and formula one. Although in the US fantasy football refers to grid-iron, in Europe and the United Kingdom, fantasy football means something else, and it is the biggest ‘rotisserie’ sport there is.
How did fantasy football begin in Europe?
Fantasy football was not a long time in coming after its US cousin, grid-iron. In 1971, Bernie Donnelly, a retired economics teacher, invented fantasy football one Saturday in August.
Like many football fans, Donnelly was looking for something to do during the summer break. As many football fans understand, this time of the year means no football and any betting activity has to involve other sports. These days with the advent of the internet, anyone can go online and bet on a sport somewhere else in the world or play in a live casino if they are bored. But, not so in 1971.
It wasn’t until the mid-’80s that one Riccardo Albini brought his vision of fantasy football to the world. What happened after was Fantasy Football League in the ’90s with David Baddiel and Frank Skinner followed by the UK newspapers getting in on the act.
How did the game spread?
In the UK, there was the aforementioned TV show but the national newspapers also got in on the act. The Telegraph, The Sun, and others all started to run their fantasy football leagues.
Then, of course, came the internet. This changed everything and made playing fantasy football or other sports far easier. Leagues were set up online and as interest grew so did the cash prizes. Over the years and through recent history you can see the rise of betting in football, and FF has allowed another dimension.
One of the reasons that fantasy grid-iron took off was that it allowed fans to have an extra level of involvement in the game. Sports betting also lets fans feel more engaged, and therefore so does fantasy football.
When you consider the popularity of the sport across the world, the amount of people who like to gamble, and how easy it is to access the internet, it is not hard to see how fantasy football has spread and become so popular.
Where do fantasy football and other sports go from here?
There are still many untapped markets for fantasy sports. Although 70% of players enjoy free games, fantasy sports are now a multi-billion dollar industry. In the US alone it took nearly $3 billion in 2019 which was one of the worst years for some time. The industry saw a worldwide revenue of nearly $8 billion so imagine how big this will grow when countries such as India join in.
Fantasy sports are now so big that there are official bodies such as the Fantasy Sports and Gaming Association to oversee the interests of its participants.
Those untapped markets and emerging countries may turn out to be the biggest fantasy sports fans of the lot. India had 20 million fantasy sports players in 2017 and is predicted to become the largest market in the world with 100 million players joining.
Online casinos will also help increase the popularity of fantasy football in the future. Nearly all online casinos have a sportsbook or an area where players can bet on football. Nowadays they are branching out from slot machines and poker to virtual sports and fantasy leagues too.
Fantasy football is likely to continue to grow as more people discover that they can play online in leagues and also join up through their favorite casino. The obvious benefit of this is that an online casino can provide fantasy football, sports bets, and other entertainment between games such as poker or blackjack.
Fantasy football may have started out from a baseball board game back in the 1950s but it is hugely popular in its own right. There are European fantasy football leagues, leagues run in workplaces, ones in casinos, and of course the official Fantasy Premier League.
If you want to start playing FF then you can find many ways to join and learn many tips to become better in fantasy football too. The future of fantasy football looks strong and as the pandemic hopefully recedes, football as a whole will return to normal giving fans the chance to enjoy live action as well as the ‘rotisserie’ version.