by Matt Minarik
Ezekiel Elliott cuts to the outside. Breaks one tackle then another. He is down to the 10, the 5, touchdown! You are screaming happy expletives. But wait, you can’t stand Ezekiel Elliott and even more than that, the Dallas Cowboys. You are a Philadelphia Eagles fan! It is sacrilegious to root for the enemy. The thing is … Elliott’s touchdown just helped you defeat your opponent this week in one of your many Fantasy Football leagues. Fantasy Football has a way of balancing out the superfan and the casual fan. Fantasy Football has also diminished that line between rooting for your team and rooting for another team or players from another team.
The Boom of Fantasy Football
Fantasy football has been around for years. There used to be a time before the internet when friends would get together, draft their teams and watch their favorite team on television. The fantasy stats were compiled by a league member by looking at the box scores the next day. Those days are way behind us. Fantasy Football is now a billion-dollar industry and is covered almost as much an any other type of sports event. There are shows, podcasts, and websites dedicated to nothing but fantasy football. Some fantasy diehards pay more attention to players on their fantasy team than players on their favorite National Football League (NFL) team. Why is that?
Fantasy Football Is a Confidence Builder
A 2013 research study published in the Journal of Sports Media found that sport can work to improve a person’s confidence. The researchers were interested in fantasy football and NFL fandom, looked to social learning theory, which considers the impact of group membership on self-esteem and identity, to understand how tied into a team a person feels by sporting team gear, logos, or colors. The researchers concluded that sports enthusiasts feel they are a vital part of the team. You don’t have to be muscular or athletic to play fantasy football. All you need is the ability to watch television, do some internet research and adjust a lineup on the computer or your phone. If you do that successfully enough times you could be a champion. I believe winning a fantasy football championship can give someone a sense of belonging. In school, playing football was what the cool kids played, and the nerds watched. Fantasy football allows those kids to have something in common with people they otherwise wouldn’t. That rush of happiness and confidence that occurs when the final game of the week is played and you have more points than your opponent could very well be a leading factor as to why someone would choose their fantasy team over their favorite NFL team.
I Am the Boss
Whether a fan plays fantasy football or not, there is a good chance at some point they felt they could do a better job than their favorite team’s general manager (GM). Playing fantasy football gives every person the opportunity to be the boss, the GM. They make the calls for all the players and try to out strategize their opponent like a real head coach or GM would do. That sense of control could push a person away from their favorite team and more toward the team they can control.
Where the Loyalty Lies
In a 2011 article about fandom in Journal of Sports Management, Brendan Dwyer wrote that in the NFL, fan loyalty has historically been reserved for one individual team formed through strong geographical and/or social connections; however, the introduction of fantasy football has enhanced the importance of individual players on different teams. These added points of interest have the potential to diminish a fan’s attitudes and behaviors toward their favorite team. In an interview with Lisa Mazza, The Fantasy Football Podcast producer Daniel Dopp states, “Fantasy players have really grown an appreciation for watching additional games because they know more about the players that they otherwise would have never watched.” A new loyalty is formed. Fantasy footballers are now paying attention to players and teams they would never care about before fantasy football. They are finding themselves spreading out their loyalties throughout the league, depending on who can benefit them the most that week or season.
Players Know the Importance
NFL players know that some of their decisions can impact a fantasy football players success or failure. Case in point, in a 2008, week 15 game against the Dallas Cowboys, Brian Westbrook of the Philadelphia Eagles made a strategic decision that costs many fantasy football players a championship. The Eagles were leading late in the game and Westbrook had the chance to seal the game with a long touchdown run. The problem was, the Cowboys would get the ball back with a chance to comeback. In a smart move, Westbrook purposely fell at the one-yard line. This enabled the Eagles to keep the ball, run the clock out and prevent the Cowboys from getting the ball back. Some Eagles fans were upset by the move because their fantasy team lost even though it guaranteed victory for their favorite NFL team.
I was one of those people that lost because of Brian Westbrooks decision but it didn’t affect me like it did to other people. I was in a league that played for fun and not money. The players that lost money are the ones that were most upset. It really wasn’t their money to begin with and their actual team won, so what’s the big deal, right? I even have a personal rule that I follow because the Philadelphia Eagles are more important to me than my fantasy teams. My rule is: I will never have a Dallas Cowboy, New York Giant, or Washington Commander on my fantasy teams no matter what. Those logos will never appear on my fantasy teams. Some people are different so if you need to root for Ezekiel Elliott to score a touchdown for you, so be it, but you will never see me do it.