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Fantasy football (American)

Fantasy football is a statistical game in which players compete against each other by managing groups of real players or position units selected from American football teams.


Modern fantasy football can be traced back to the late Wilfred "Bill the Gill" Winkenbach, an Oakland area businessman and a limited partner in the Oakland Raiders. In a New York hotel room during a 1962 Raiders eastern cross-country trip, Winkenbach, along with Raiders Public Relations man Bill Tunnel and Tribune reporter Scotty Stirling, developed a system of organization and a rulebook, which would eventually be the basis of modern fantasy football.[1]

The inaugural league was called the GOPPPL (Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League), and the first draft took place in the rumpus room of Winkenbach's home in Oakland, California in August 1963.[2] The league consisted of eight members, made up of administrative affiliates of the AFL, pro football journalists, or someone who had purchased or sold 10 season tickets for the Raiders’ 1963 season. Each roster consisted of the following in the GOPPPL: two quarterbacks, four halfbacks, two fullbacks, four offensive ends, two kick/punt returners, two field goal kickers, two defensive backs/linebackers and two defensive linemen. The current GOPPPL roster now includes: two quarterbacks, four halfbacks, six wide receivers/tight ends, two kickers, two defensive backs, one return team, and a bonus pick for any position. As of 2012, the GOPPPL will celebrate its 50th season and still maintains its TD-only scoring heritage.

In 1969, Andy Mousalimas, an original creator of GOPPPL and participant in the inaugural draft, brought the game to his sports bar, the King's X in Oakland, California where he added another couple leagues. When the patrons of other Oakland and San Francisco bars visited for trivia contests they soon learned of the game and passed the word about it.[3] Due to the time consuming nature of the game's scoring it was difficult to pick up and spread slowly across the country.

For years, the popularity of fantasy football grew slowly. In 1997, CBS launched the beta version of the first publicly available free fantasy football website.[citation needed] The game immediately became widely popular. Within three years, all major sports media websites launched competing fantasy football hosting websites. The NFL released their own official game in 2010, Fantasy Football, further driving industry growth. Fantasy football is now the single most important marketing tool for the NFL. Today, it is estimated over 19 million people compete in public and private leagues online nationally.[4]

In 2009, fantasy football was christened mainstream with a fantasy football based sitcom, The League. The League was created by the husband-and-wife team of Jeff Schaffer (Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld) and Jackie Marcus Schaffer (Disturbia, EuroTrip) who serve as executive producers and directors. The series is produced by FX Productions.[5]

League types

There are many different methods of organizing of fantasy football leagues, some of which may be combined. The two most popular league types are head-to-head and total points leagues.[citation needed]

  • In head-to-head leagues, a team matches up versus a different team each week. The team who receives the most points of the two receives a win for that particular week. Points are dictated by the scoring system that is either standard set by the website or custom set by the league. A team’s total is the sum of all players' points in the starting lineup. Teams with the best win-loss record advance to the playoffs. If two teams have the same record, tiebreakers are employed based on league preference.
  • Total points leagues are leagues in which teams accumulate points on an ongoing basis. The league standings are determined by the teams’ total points.
  • All play leagues are leagues in which all teams play each other each week. For example, if there are 14 teams in the league, the top scoring team that week would post a 13-0 record, 2nd highest scoring team would post a 12-1 record and so on.
  • A keeper style league allows teams to keep players from one year to the next.
  • The salary cap league is a particular type of dynasty league which adds another factor of realism similar to the NFL: the salary cap. Each player has an associated salary and the total spent on all the players on a team has a maximum - the "salary cap."
  • In two quarterback leagues, a team has the ability to start two quarterbacks in their weekly lineup. This changes the value of the Quarterback position, as it doubles the number of Quarterbacks able to start in any given week.
  • Daily fantasy sports is like traditional fantasy sports where players draft a team of real world athletes who then score fantasy points according to set scoring rules. However, instead of being stuck with the same team through a whole season, daily fantasy sports contests last just one day (or in the case of NFL, one weekend). Users can play head-to-head or in larger field tournaments. Both cash leagues and free contests are available for play.


Just like in real football, each year fantasy football leagues have a draft (note: in dynasty leagues, this normally consists of NFL rookies only), in which each team drafts NFL players. These players are kept unless they are traded or dropped, whereby they enter a pool of unowned players that any team may claim. In most leagues, no player may be owned by more than one team, although some leagues do allow for this.

There are essentially two types of drafts. In a traditional "serpentine" or "snake" draft, owners take turns drafting players in a "serpentine" method, i.e. the owner who picks 1st in the odd rounds picks last in the even rounds, in the interests of fairness.

In an auction draft, each owner has an imaginary budget which he must use to purchase all his players in an auction format. Owners take turns nominating players for open bid. The owner who bids the highest on each player receives that player, reducing their remaining budget accordingly. Auction drafts are viewed as the more fair method since every owner begins on equal ground.[6] A few leagues use a hybrid of the two styles, selecting a portion of their roster via auction, with the remainder selected through a serpentine method.

As the NFL has evolved, so have fantasy football draft strategies.[7] The most commonly used strategies are value based drafting and opinion based drafting. Value base drafting entails projecting the total fantasy point value for each player in the draft and then figuring their value with respect to other players at their position, while standard cheat sheet based drafting requires ranking each player based on your opinion of worth, or other people’s opinion of said player's worth.

Because of the influx of new league types and new players, many content sites have emerged. In addition to the major publications, prominent sites such as DraftSharks and Pro Football Focus have been recognized in recent years as having the most accurate player projections.[8]

Drafts can be conducted in "live" or "auto" formats. Live drafts involve players utilizing real-time strategy and reactionary measures to acquire specific available players. Auto-drafts use preliminary draft rankings set by each team to automate the draft cycle and establish the teams. Live drafts are often preferred to automated as they are believed to require more skill.

The location of fantasy football drafts depend on the geographic location of each team manager. With the rise of the internet, all Fantasy football providers have made online drafting an option for leagues in which the managers are too far away to meet up in person. Other leagues make a tradition of meeting up to draft, and in some leagues, managers travel cross-country to attend annual league drafts. Group drafts conducted in-person are typically scheduled many weeks in advance. Common locations include boardrooms, offices, bars, or dining establishments.

Team names

Each owner assigns his/her team a name, which can be based on anything. Some names are based on the owner's life or personality, while many are based on current events or a pun or word play using the name of a favorite player. Choosing an especially clever or funny team name can win an owner accolades from other owners including digital league trophies for the best name, and sports writers who cover fantasy football often compile their own lists of their favorite fantasy football team names from a given year.[9][10][11] There are even entire sites focused exclusively on fantasy football team names where the community can add their own team name ideas as well as vote on team names proposed by others and mobile applications where users can generate fantasy football team names based on the players on their teams.

Fantasy trade referees

Often within fantasy football leagues trades are made that cause controversy and are considered unfair by many other members of the league. These disputes are sometimes settled by fantasy football trade referees. These third party sites feature experienced fantasy players who rule on trades and offer an objective third party opinion.

You may not need to use trade referees if your league uses the voting system in which the league can approve or decline the trade that has been placed. In some leagues if there is a voting period and a trade referee in place, the trade referee can overrule the league voting and this can cause controversy as well. Other leagues give their league manager the power to veto or pass the trade.

Team rosters

Each team is allowed a pre-determined number of players on its team, as well as a specified number at each position that can or must be used in each game (the "starters"). Owners for each team then determine each week which players will start (within the rules) and which will be "benched". Just like in real football, bench players can become starters for various reasons: due to other players' injury, poor performance, or if another player's team has a bye.

Each week, owners choose their starters for a game before a certain deadline. Whether to sit or start a player is usually based on strategic considerations including the player's past and expected performance, defensive match ups, and so on.


Each team owner must designate which players from the team roster will be starters each week - i.e. the only players who will "score" any points. The following example is similar to many common formats required for a starting lineup:

There are many variants on this. Some leagues use individual defensive players (IDPs) (and in some cases a punter) instead of or in addition to a combined Team Defense/Special Teams. Some other leagues use separate Defense and Special Teams. Another variant is the "flex" position, which can be filled by a player in one of several positions. Flex positions are often limited to "WR/TE", "RB/WR", or "RB/WR/TE". Traditionally, this flex was required to be an RB, WR, or TE; however, some leagues allow any position to fill this flex slot as an "OP" (any Offensive Player). Some leagues also have a two-quarterback requirement for a starting lineup, providing yet another twist into the complexity of different scoring systems and lineups (Hendricks, 2007 Fantasy Football Guidebook pg. 21-44).

Scoring configurations

League managers earn their team points based on their starting players' performances in weekly NFL games. Players accumulate points based purely on their statistical output. For example, a touchdown might be worth six points while each yard passed, rushed, or carried may be worth a certain amount of points, and so on. In most cases, players earn points for passing, rushing, and receiving yards.

Although kickers can theoretically score points through touchdowns or yards rushed and received, they accumulate most of their points through field goals and extra points. The Team Defense / Special Teams position earns points through defensive plays (such as turnovers, quarterback sacks, safeties, and blocked kicks) and by limiting the offensive points of the opposing teams. Also, whereas points are awarded to players for positive plays, points are taken away from players for negative plays such as turnovers or missed kicks.

Standard scoring

The standard fantasy football scoring system comprises a well-respected baseline of statistic/point-value pairs designed to promote balance across the various fantasy positions.[12] This is the typical scoring configuration chosen by first time fantasy football commissioners because it is a very basic points system which is fair and intuitive for fantasy novices.

A typical standard scoring format would look very similar to this, although there may be slight discrepancies in points awarded to kickers (depending on your league host's scoring limitations):

  • 1 point for 25 passing yards
  • 1 point for 10 rushing yards
  • 1 point for 10 receiving yards
  • 6 points for a touchdown
  • 4 points for a passing touchdown
  • -2 points for every interception thrown or fumble lost
  • 1 point for each extra point made
  • 3 points for each 0-39 yard field goal, 4 points for each 40-49 yard field goal, and 5 points for each 50+ yard field goal
  • 2 points per turnover gained by defense
  • 1 points per sack by the defense
  • 2 points for a safety by defense
  • 6 points for each touchdown scored by defense
  • 2 points for each blocked kick[13]

Points-per-reception (PPR)

Points-per-reception leagues were created as an effort to make wide receivers and tight ends more relevant to fantasy scoring. In this alternate scoring system, fractional or full points are awarded for every reception tallied by a player. This changes the value of players in standard scoring systems, as running backs who catch many passes become more valuable, those who catch fewer are less valuable, and so on. Certain leagues vary the points respective positions earn for receptions.

Pure scoring leagues

Another scoring system counts only touchdowns, touchdown passes, and field goals for points. Many of the first fantasy football leagues were pure-scoring leagues as this provided for easier tracking of team points throughout the season. As the game matured and moved online, it became easier to track yardage and more sophisticated scoring configurations were adopted.

Pure yardage leagues

An alternate scoring format is the "pure yardage" league, in which touchdowns are ignored, and each player's passing, rushing and receiving yards are totaled. Some yardage leagues also convert defensive stats into yards (ex., 50 yards for an interception, 20 yards for a sack), whether for a team's defense, or individual players.

Individual defensive player (IDP)

An alternative method for scoring defense is Individual Defensive Players or IDP fantasy football. The main difference being that players typically draft anywhere from 3 to 7 individual defensive players during a draft as opposed to just one team defense. Sometimes there are required positions to fill like 2 Linebackers, 2 Defensive Backs and 2 Defensive Linemen and sometimes it's just 5 defensive players of any position you choose. There are many different ways to draft IDPs and many have found this makes the later part of the fantasy draft more exciting. For instance, instead of drafting a 5th wide receiver in the 16th round that will typically be on your bench or dropped part way through the season, you are instead drafting a "full-time" starting defensive player that can help you win your league.

Performance-based bonuses

Some leagues allow bonuses to be awarded to players for exceptionally good performances, like a QB throwing for over 300 yards. Running backs or wide receivers could similarly be awarded a performance bonus based on accumulating more than 100 yards on the ground or through the air. Kickers could even be awarded for long field goals, generally 50 yards or longer.


In many fantasy football leagues, a player that receives a lot of points in one week may save them to use in a future fantasy game. Specific rules vary from league to league. This ruling has many variations, as does the scoring systems of fantasy football leagues, but the ruling that is considered to be “standard” is defined as follows: Any team that scores in excess of 140 points in any one week is eligible for the rollover rule; provided they won the match-up for that week; and with the score of 140 points would have still won the match-up for the week. If the previous is true than the rollover ruling applies, which states; “any team eligible for the rule may use the points earned in excess of 140 on any future match-up for the remainder of the season”, with the following provisions attached: The team electing to use rollover points must make it publicly known to all other teams, twenty-fours prior to the kickoff of the first game, that they will be using the points that week; rollover points cannot be used for post-season games; rollover points must be used completely and cannot be broken up over multiple weeks, i.e. if a team has 5 rollover points they must be used on one week, not 1 point per week for five weeks; rollover points must be used in the current season; if rollover points have not been used and a team is eligible for additional from another week the points will be added and can only be used in one week.

League manager and gambling

Many leagues are composed of friends, family, co-workers and even strangers that are in the fantasy league to prove who is the greatest couch coach. Millions upon millions of dollars are won and lost each year in fantasy league betting. Some leagues managed by players in the leagues while other leagues are run by independent businesses.[14] The Federal government has determined that fantasy league gambling is not a "game of chance" and as such is not illegal, however, alterations to the rules can cause a fantasy league to skew too far into chance and lose federal protection. At the state level, many states, including Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana and Vermont have banned certain activities related to fantasy football, such as collection of league fees and payout of winnings, when done so online.[15] Florida has an outright ban on all fantasy football, though how the ban is enforced appears to be unclear. Fantasy football continues unabated in all of these states, so it appears none of these regulations have any effect.[16]

Some Fantasy Football leagues wager things other than money, such as the loser of the league has to get a tattoo, and that tattoo has to be of what the winner of the league wants. The only thing that the loser gets any say in is the location of the tattoo. The owners of the teams have to sign a contract before the season to agree to the punishment if they lose.[17] Other high-stakes leagues offer prizes of US$250,000 to the ultimate champion.

All individual players

There are a few dynasty leagues that follow the NFL's roster model and score all possible NFL players at all individual positions. Offensive linemen (OL) are scored by total yards and points minus sacks given up. Fullbacks are partially scored as offensive linemen because of their blocking duties. Kick and punt returners are scored by yardage and touchdowns. Punters are scored by net average and punts inside the 20 yard line.


According to the FSTA, approximately 41 million people play fantasy football every year with an average age of 34. 18% of the market is held by teens, an important demographic because over 80% of all users say they are likely to continue playing for at least the next decade and more than 40% say they will play for life.[18] 80% of all team managers are male. 89.8% of them are white and 51.5% are not married. 78% hold a bachelors’ degree or higher, making the majority of team managers an upper middle class earner with a median income between 60-100K.[19]

Effect on American economy

The economic impacts of fantasy football are vast in number and value. Most of the impacts are positive on the economy overall, but there are some relatively minor drawbacks. Growth rates in fantasy football showed no signs of slowing down over the past few years.[19] While team managers are drawn to fantasy football because they can get started and play for free, they are still likely to spend on many of fantasy football's complementary industries.

Ad revenue

One of the largest sources of revenue in fantasy football is ad revenue. Driven mostly by sports sites, revenue generated by ads on fantasy football programming is estimated at $2 to $5 billion annually.[19] Ad rates vary greatly, and many content providers aren’t willing to give specific details on what they charge, but sites can charge an estimated $2–$10 per thousand pageviews.[20] The advertising revenue can be especially lucrative because fantasy team managers are such heavy internet users. They create, on average, 4 times more pageviews than those that don’t play fantasy sports.[21] Advertising isn’t limited to just sports sites and television. Demand for fantasy football information has spread to mobile applications, which carry banner ads at the bottom or top of each screen.

Spending by team managers

Additionally, fantasy football team managers pour money into the industry themselves. Many fantasy leagues require an entry fee, which are used to fund prizes for the league winners.[22] These fees and their resulting payoffs are typically small, and represent more of a transfer of wealth between players than contributions to the overall economy. However, fantasy football team managers are also more likely to spend on other industries. When compared to non-fantasy sports fans, team managers are significantly more likely to purchase alcohol, airline tickets, and sports magazines. They are also more likely to purchase fast food and soft drinks.[23]

Complementary and derivative industries

Fantasy football has also created several complementary and derivative industries. Team managers will spend on subscription-based information sites such as, and Football Guys to gain an informational advantage. Fantasy leagues may also engage services to make their things run smoothly and settle disputes. Leagues may deposit collected fees with fantasy football specific escrow companies, and settle disputes regarding trades or scoring by using lawyer-run fantasy football arbitration websites for a flat fee per resolution. The excitement of drafting a team each year has led to a new derivative of fantasy football: Day or week leagues, which offer the opportunity to draft a new team and play a single game each week. Fantasy football has worked its way into pop culture as well. TV sitcoms about groups of friends playing each other in fantasy football, cable networks dedicating blocks of programming specifically to fantasy football, 24/7 satellite radio channels reporting fantasy news, and services designed to provide team managers with alerts about their player’s status to their phones.[20]

Effect on spectatorship

The explosive popularity of fantasy sports, coupled with the availability of venues showcasing numerous live football games via satellite, has had significant effects on football viewing and rooting habits among participants. Fantasy sports players watch more game telecasts, buy more tickets and spend money at stadiums at a much higher rate than general sports fans. For example, 55 percent of fantasy sports players report watching more sports on television since they started playing fantasy sports.[24] Fantasy participants also are reported to attend 0.22 to 0.57 more NFL games in person per season.[25] The NFL entered into a reported five-year, $600 million deal in 2006 with Sprint that was driven at least in part because of fantasy sports, allowing subscribers to draft and monitor their teams with their cellphones. [26] Many sports and football-related sports news shows discuss fantasy-related topics. Besides the fictional The League, multiple TV programs that focus on fantasy football news exist; examples include ESPN's Fantasy Football Now and CBS's Fantasy Football Today.

The way a fantasy owner watches a game is greatly affected if a player on their team is playing. An owner will root for specific things to happen in order for their player(s) to score points. For example, someone who has a running back will root for a goal line situation or for the team the running back plays for to be up by a significant amount of points. If the running back's team is on the goal line, then a running play is more likely to be called. If the running back's team is up by a significant amount of points, his team will call more running plays in order to run out the clock. The more running plays called, the more points for that running back. Different scenarios will provide certain players an opportunity to score points for fantasy owners.

Critics charge that because of the varying interests, some fantasy owners may instead support the players on their fantasy rosters in any one game rather than supporting a favorite team. Players are mixed on the impact of the effects of fantasy football on fans' habits and preferences. Retired NFL QB Jake Plummer told ESPN "I think it's ruined the game", and retired New York Giants RB Tiki Barber said about fantasy fans, "there's an incongruity in the wants."[27] However, former Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley plays in four fantasy football leagues himself,[26] and former Indianapolis Colts linebacker Cato June benched New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady from his fantasy team to avoid a conflict of interest when the two teams played in November 2006. Fans frequently ask players on their fantasy rosters to score more often; Peyton Manning reported that only autograph requests exceeded fan requests for "more fantasy touchdowns" from him. Fans often seek inside information on injuries and future stars from coaches,[27] and players have been known to receive harsh criticism from fans in response to unsatisfactory fantasy football performances.[28]

In 2011, the NFL directed teams to show fantasy statistics during games on the stadium video boards.[29] In fact, NFL executives have recognized the importance of fantasy football’s success to the NFL overall.[21]

One of the primary effects on spectatorship includes fans tracking injuries of NFL players throughout the season in order to better manage their starting line ups. Critics charge this translates into fantasy fans becoming more concerned with whether an injury will bench a player, rather than the nature, extent or seriousness of the injury, or sympathy toward the player. For strategy reasons, many teams refuse to disclose the seriousness of a player's injury until game time. This frustrates many fantasy owners trying to determine whether to start or bench a player whose participation is listed as "questionable" or "probable".

Wasted productivity

Despite all of the beneficial impacts to the economy that fantasy football provides, there are some concerns about potential economic drawbacks. The addictive nature and widespread popularity of fantasy football, combined with the relative ease of obtaining information about a manager’s team has led to many hours of lost productivity at work. A rough calculation based estimates regarding the average amount of time team managers spend on their teams, combined with the number of team managers and their average wages puts the estimated impact at about $6 billion in wasted productivity. However, the study admits to being non-scientific and that its estimates are rough. Furthermore, it reports that managers tend to view the impact as a minor distraction. In a poll conducted for the same study asking managers to rate the impact of fantasy football on their workplace from 1-10, about 70% reported a 4 or lower. Less than 8% reported a 7 or 8. No respondents reported a 9 or 10. Additionally, employers can even take advantage of fantasy football by embracing it and starting sanctioned work leagues. This may increase employee morale and loyalty, improving retention rates. This study also reported 40% of respondents considered fantasy football a positive influence in the workplace, with 1 in 5 also saying they have made valuable business contacts through fantasy football.[30]



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