The Rise of Fantasy Sports in Social Media

Sports can be one of those topics that bring out the fanaticism in people. A local derby match between two neighboring teams can turn usually meek and sane people in raving, screaming fanatics, baying for blood. And it doesn't even have to involve real teams, playing matches on actual stadiums and arenas. There has been a massive growth in fantasy sports over the last few years, with fandom growing for teams that only exist as pixels.

Not that all fantasy sports fans are rabid fanatics. The vast majority enjoy their online activities, actively contributing to online fan communities, and participating in social media conversations. Indeed there have been many creative, thoughtful social messages discussions about the relative merits of players in fantasy sports teams.

Social Media and the Rise of Fantasy Sports:

What is Fantasy Sport?

Fantasy sports allow participants to build imaginary teams made up of real-life players. The players don't physically play together, of course – the "teams" purely exist in an electronic world.

Many sports fan love player and match statistics. Fantasy sports let the fans have fun with the statistics, creating their ideal teams without the constraints of life, like whether a particular player would willingly move to a specific city or work under a manager they may dislike in real life.

Fantasy sports is much more than just somebody simulating the team for their dreams. There are entire "competitions" allowing people to pitch their fantasy teams against those of other players.

Fantasy sports are top-rated in the United States, so it shouldn't be a surprise to find that Fantasy Football (the American variety) is the most popular type of fantasy sport. According to ESPN, the fantasy sports industry earned $3-4 billion in annual revenue in 2010.  The Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) reports that there were 500,000 fantasy sports players in the United States and Canada in 1988. They estimated that the number had grown to  41.5 million fantasy players by 2014. Roughly 14% of the entire U.S. population and 19% of the Canadian population play fantasy sports.

Unsurprisingly, there is a strong correlation between fantasy sports fans and followers of "real" televised sports. They spend an average of 17.89 hours per week consuming sports, and an average of 8.67 hours per week consuming fantasy sports.

Fantasy Sports Predates Social Media

The rise of fantasy sports has in many ways, paralleled that of social media, and undoubtedly, social media played a significant role in increasing the popularity of fantasy sports. However, fantasy sports predates social media

The first event resembling fantasy sports involved Wilfred “Bill” Winkenbach and a few others from the Oakland Raiders Organisation drawing up basic rules for what is now fantasy football in 1962. Of course, in those days, fantasy sports operated on pen and paper. It wasn't until the late 90s that they migrated to the internet.

Mainstream media regularly covered fantasy sports in the 1980s. The primary scoring system still used today, The Rotisserie System, was devised by Journalists. Many sports journalists knew about the game and participated in it. Their support was crucial to the growth of fantasy sports. It happened because many sports journalists had very little to write about during the Major League Baseball Strike in 1981. While they waited for the (real) baseballers to return, the journalists wrote about fantasy baseball.

Fantasy sport took off rapidly in the 1990s, gaining popularity with greater accessibility of information thanks to the internet. A court ruling in 1996 helped fantasy sport's growth. The court ruled in favor of Motorola over the NBA and declared that factual sports scores and stats were not covered by copyright and could be made freely available for anybody to use.

There was a potential hiccup to the success of fantasy gaming in 2006 with the passing of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) in the United States. There were fears that this would make betting on fantasy sports illegal. However, the government made a specific exemption for online fantasy sports, deeming it a game of skill and not a game of chance, and the revamped UIGEA federally legalized online fantasy sports.

Fantasy Draft Companies

Over time, several companies formalized fantasy sports and set up fantasy drafts, where "players" could compete in leagues to produce the best sides. They recognized the global nature of the internet and allowed players from across the globe to play each other. 

Many of these fantasy draft companies allow people to place bets, using real money. Most still use the traditional Rotisserie scoring system, but they offer a range of game styles. They have also widened the range of sports in which you can create teams and play against organized competition.

How do Fantasy Sports Companies Use Social Media?

The fantasy sports companies and their supporters have made much use of social media. They have used a range of strategies to drum up support and build a community among their fans. Many of the techniques they use are similar to what influencers and successful businesses in other niches have utilized.

Sharing Insights With Their Fans

Social media is inherently made for quickly disseminating facts and news to a particular audience. These make excellent posts on fantasy sports accounts. You could highlight a player's performance, possibly commenting on their good (or bad) play of late. You can also share news relating to player injuries, suspensions, and other behind-the-scenes stories. 

ESPN Fantasy provides exclusive tips to their fans, analyzing how they believe players are performing at the moment.

NBA Fantasy shows its followers how fantasy points are calculated.

Creating Polls and Asking Questions

Another way to encourage engagement is to ask your fans relevant questions. For example, you could ask your fans which players they would select for particular positions.

A more advanced version of this is to set up an online poll.

Fantasyfootballers uses an Instagram post that links to an IGTV podcast to ask, "Are you taking the shot on Sammy Watkins in drafts? What’s the earliest round you would draft him?”

Holding Contests

Contests are a great way to encourage engagement on your social sites. The fantasy sports companies recognize this and regularly hold contests for their supporters. This works particularly well if you involve a sponsor offering a relevant prize. 

In a variation on this, the website Let’s Talk Fantasy Football, held an Instagram contest, offering a Google Home Mini as a prize, where they asked their followers to name the best fantasy football Instagram accounts.

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We're looking for reviews and shoutouts of your favorite Fantasy Football Instagram accounts! No, we don't need you to comment about us (although we do love praise). We're looking to compile a list of the best of the best. . . We're giving away a Google Home Mini to one (1) random commenter! So give a shoutout to your favorite #FantasyFootball Instagram account and briefly tell us why. . . Official Rules: . - You can comment and shoutout a max of two accounts. Remember, we're looking for your favorite(s). - Simply tagging the account isn't going to fly. Give us a few words about why! - You can enter until 2/15/19 at 3pm EST. We'll like your comment if it's submitted in time for the contest. - If you have a question, shoot us a DM. . So, who are your favorite fantasy accounts?! . ——————- #nfl #fantasyfootballdraft #fantasyfootballadvice #fantasyfootballmeme #fantasyfootballmemes #nfl2019 #fantasyfootballaccount #fantasyfootballreviews #fantasyfootballinstagram #patriots #chiefs #ravens #broncos #saints #rams #seahawks #chargers #jets #bills #colts #titans #eagles #giants #cowboys #redskins #raiders #49ers #steelers

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Other Businesses Can Leverage Fantasy Sports Posts on Social Media

Of course, the secret to success when operating social media accounts is to share the types of posts in which your followers will take an interest. This is as much the case for brands as it is for influencers, or indeed, individuals. There is little point in sharing a post if nobody who sees it cares about what it says or shows.

 If you target the types of people interested in fantasy sports, then it makes sense that you share posts on the topic. Some suitable business types would include:

  • Gyms
  • Sporting good companies
  • Sports bars
  • Tv subscription companies that have sports channels
  • Sports clubs
  • Shaving companies
  • Any male-focused companies

Case Study: Fantasy Football and Social Media

“Football” is one of those infuriating terms that have a different meaning wherever you are in the world. As the previous examples were mainly American, "Fantasy Football" referred to the American version of the game (more commonly known as Gridiron football elsewhere). For much of the world, "football" means association football, (confusingly abbreviated as soccer in the USA and some other places).

Association football is, of course, the most popular sport in the UK. Unsurprisingly, the UK version of fantasy football involves the round-ball version of the game and is enormously popular. There is even an official Fantasy Premier League game that had more than six million sign-ups last season.

As fantasy football grew in popularity in the UK, there was a parallel growth in social media engagement on the topic. Many fans have also created fantasy football fan websites. One site alone, Fantasy Football Scout, now has more than 103,000 Twitter followers and 25,000 YouTube subscribers. They produce a weekly YouTube hangout, viewed by tens of thousands of their followers. The website offers access to stats tables, member articles, and a community chat for a small fee (called an “annual pass”).

Other sites, such as Fantasy Football Hub run on a similar way, with a combination of free articles and videos, and premium content for paying members.

Many British fantasy football fans share their views on Twitter. They tweet “team pics” of their imaginary teams and discuss the relative merits of why they have selected particular players. There are even British fantasy football influencers, such as @BenCrellin.

YouTube is another popular channel for the British fantasy football community. Some broadcasters even hold live streams each week. One example is the Let's Talk FPL channel that has nearly 50,000 subscribers.

Fantasy Sports Continues to Grow

Fantasy sports have existed for nearly 50 years. Technology has helped them develop, and they now have serious followings. There as a clear synergy between sports and statistics and fantasy sports allow people to ask "what if"-type questions.

One of the great things about fantasy sprits is that they are inherently social. They aren’t dominated by serious-minded mathematicians sitting in a corner crunching numbers. It is often everyday people who take an interest, enjoying the chance to design the sports teams of their dreams, without any worry about real budgets or problems dealing with actual sportspeople. 

Social media has become the ideal way for fans to communicate their ideas and philosophies, and this is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

About the Author
With over 15 years in content marketing, Werner founded Influencer Marketing Hub in 2016. He successfully grew the platform to attract 5 million monthly visitors, making it a key site for brand marketers globally. His efforts led to the company's acquisition in 2020. Additionally, Werner's expertise has been recognized by major marketing and tech publications, including Forbes, TechCrunch, BBC and Wired.