Analytics has been a huge buzzword as of late and the sports industry has been making great use of the data and statistics. The NBA season kicked off last week, which means that many fantasy drafts also occurred across the world. Whether it was a 10-man, 12-man or 14-man league, most team managers already had their ideal lineup way ahead of draft night using mock drafts and simulations. However, the science behind fantasy sports wasn’t always data driven.
Fantasy sports first came into existence in the 1950s through golf. Each player selected a team of professional golfers and the person with the lowest combined total strokes at the end of the tournament would win. Team owners would have to write lineups by hand and snail-mail them to the “league commissioners” each week. Team performance was based off simulation and statistics using previous season data. You were only able to keep track of your own performance and had to wait until the beginning of each week to see how well you fared against the rest of the league managers. In the 1960s, fantasy leagues for football and baseball were created and played mostly in seminar groups at universities. But the major development in fantasy sports history began in 1980 when the Rotisserie League Baseball created a draft format that involved selecting active players and following them through the active season to compile scores. Team managers now had extra layers of predictive analytics like playing time, health issues and expected performance to keep track of. This led to a spark in journalism with newspapers such as Baseball Weekly that contained almost exclusively of statistics and box scores.
Fantasy sports really started to become popular with the rise of the Internet and personal computers in the mid-1990s. Barriers to entry were drastically reduced and it became more seamless to compile and analyze data online. As a result, many fantasy businesses migrated over to the Internet under various business models. Yahoo.com offered fantasy leagues for free starting in 1999, a power move that shaped the recreational fantasy league models of today.
In the present day, the robust datasets collected throughout the years continue to evolve the fantasy sports market. Our predictive analytical capabilities have improved to the point where we can predict the likelihood of a player getting injured based on how they jump. Real time box score and gameplay updates allows us to collect player stats and extrapolate their expected performance before the game ends. This led to a rise in a subset of fantasy sports known as daily fantasy sports, where games are played across a shorter time frame (1 day or 1 week of the season) for large prizes. This subset has been driving the growth of fantasy sports, where a 10.7% growth was recorded in 2015.
As I mentioned in my class presentation, everyone will eventually play video games of some sort and I think fantasy sports league is the pivot that has the highest odds of bringing in newcomers to gaming. Many of the features required to manage your fantasy team are already parallel to many aspects of our daily living – we have smartphones, we like on-demand control, we engage heavily in video content consumption, we deal with data in some form in our professional life and we are competitive creatures. Instead of mindlessly scrolling through Snap stories, we would trade off some of that time to watch sports highlights, analyze the content and collect more insight to increase your odds of winning your fantasy league’s prize pool (or bragging rights at the very least). Additionally, participation in fantasy sports may also benefit those who are sports coaches in non-professional level settings. The tools and skills that they acquire would be transferrable to their own roster and can allow them to optimize matchups against their opponents. Lastly, instead of plugging and chugging numbers onto a spreadsheet for work, you would now have a recreational way to use Excel and management science. I mean it’s certainly more fun to simulate how many triple doubles Russell Westbrook will get this season than how much revenue you would need to generate to breakeven for a software investment right?
The sports industry themselves are investing heavily in camera technology to provide better replays and viewer technology such as VR streaming. Although these technologies are intended to enhance the gameplay judiciary system, I think they will also become a peripheral to current fantasy league managers and a marketing segway to entice sports fans not yet participating in fantasy sports to give it a try. As these technologies continue to grow, they will also introduce more data into fantasy sports and continue to expand the realm of simulations and specialized fantasy league rules.
If you’re a sports fan and haven’t considered joining a fantasy league, I would strongly recommend it for the reasons mentioned above. If you’re not a sports fan but are tech-savvy and analytical, join your annual family fantasy basketball league, spend 15-30 minutes a day, manage your team based off your understanding of statistics and watch as you beat your brother’s girlfriends fantasy team to a pulp. It’s a win-win situation either way.