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Week 13

Last Week’s Question

In last week’s column, I asked readers for their take on the possibility that fantasy football has reached its saturation point in popular culture. Just as Peyton Manning doesn’t have to say anything wrong or do anything objectionable to be accused of “overexposure,” it seems that fantasy football may be getting more attention than the American mainstream might like (even though the hobby is, in many people’s estimation, just as engaging as ever). My question grew out of a response to this column by a reader named Robbie. Robbie has been playing for years, but he has just about had it with fantasy football. It turns out that many readers were willing to chime in on Robbie’s position—several of them with quite long and thoughtful responses. We’ll start with the most fully developed response I received (almost a column in its own right) that came to me from FFToday’s own Matt Waldman:
I do believe fantasy football is nearing its saturation point in pop culture, but I don't think that means its popularity among the sports culture is going to fade anytime soon. While sports and popular culture overlap in many areas, they are still distinct groups. It is the large media outlets that try to integrate sports and popular culture for their profit that at the same time will influence a natural decline of general interest.

In my opinion, part of the reason major media has a hand in undoing the very same thing it brings forth is the fact that major media purveyors have become more overtly profit-driven in their approach to content. CBS, FOX, and ESPN fantasy sites all primarily began under the umbrella of their news. As profit margins climb, the outlets attempt to respond to this apparent demand with the strategy of integrating fantasy football into other areas of their business strategy as an attempt to capture more customers.

The problem occurs when the people asked to soft sell the fantasy product are announcers, analysts, and news anchors. Some show great disdain for the hobby--NBC's Bob Costas and ESPN's Scott Van Pelt have made remarks on air that display that they dislike fantasy football. In addition, Costas made remarks during a September episode of Football Night In America that illustrated his ignorance of the demographic his network has been working to capture--educated, moderately wealthy, family-oriented men over thirty. Costas and several others characterize fantasy football enthusiasts as socially awkward, numbers-crunching hermits with no life. I believe you spent 2005 looking into the demographic. I believe I have statistically valid data that demonstrates most fantasy football enthusiasts don't match this mischaracterization.

In addition, the major media is always trying to capture as broad an audience as possible. To achieve this end, the networks often tailor content to the lowest common denominator of their audience. As a result, we have celebrity/commentator fantasy drafts where not only do the participants illustrate they have no understanding of how to play the game, but the hosts also display their ignorance by criticizing good strategies. They may know football, but they don't know fantasy football. ESPN's Mark Schlereth once pointed out this difference during one of ESPN's ill-conceived fantasy drafts.

Naturally, you'll get more people interested in the hobby, but you also have more people getting into it for reasons other than their enjoyment of following football. This is the territory we've entered as an industry. Fantasy football was once a relatively small community of diehard sports fans. It evolved into a small business community, and it is now a big business—and we're seeing the positive and negative effects on the diehard fan: greater accessibility and choice of information but in some cases a more homogenized approach that detracts from the original feeling of being a part of something that has true value. That's why some fantasy enthusiasts are sick of hearing Kornheiser talk about his fantasy team--his broaching of the topic rings hollow--as if the producers are telling him to take this angle.

I believe we'll see an adjustment within the industry. Either the major outlets will figure out how to focus more on a core audience that will help them generate steady revenue or they won't have much to do with fantasy football other than run leagues. Maybe it's just my biased (and hopeful) outlook, but I believe fantasy football is here to stay. Fantasy sports is like jazz as opposed to disco. Jazz was once the popular music of this culture. Although not nearly as popular as it once was, it's still has a prominent place among people that enjoy music. It's just not on the forefront of popular culture. I find it hard to believe it will just die out like disco.
I received a similarly thoughtful response from Scot, who adds these insights:
Robbie’s frustration seems to have two elements: (1) Do fantasy leagues destroy or impair relationships; and (2) has the major sports media’s "embracing" of fantasy football led to fantasy overload.

With respect to the first issue - I am in two "money" leagues, one with a bunch of guys I went to high school with; and the second with a bunch of guys I used to work with. I think this is a pretty common occurrence. The problem is that, absent fantasy football, I wouldn't see these guys very often, and our previously close friendships would sort of naturally dissolve. When we did see each other, we would be happy and be able to talk about what was going on in our lives. I don't think fantasy football destroys friendships per se, but I do think that it prolongs relationships that would otherwise die a natural death. But the mechanism that prolongs the "friendship" is this competitive thing called fantasy football. When we don't see each other outside of fantasy football, all of the inherent competitiveness (and possible distrust) in fantasy football kind of imposes itself on the friendship, and because you don't have any other common ground, it’s easy to feel like fantasy has destroyed or impaired a friendship that shouldn't really exist anymore. That's my experience. Just last week I avoided a holiday party where I knew several of my co-owners would be present precisely because there had been some tension regarding trades this year. Every year, the draft gets a little more awkward, as I have less and less to say to these people outside of fantasy football.

With respect to the second issue, I definitely think that the major sports media fails to understand what information is important to FF, but tries to make up for its lack of understanding through pure volume. About the only thing that ESPN or any other media source offers that is really useful to the experienced fantasy player are injury updates. Otherwise, FF is all about educated guessing. We make educated guesses when we draft and make educated guesses every week when we pick a lineup. Because the major sports media isn't really privy to the gameplans of any individual team, when they make Start em'/Sit em' calls, they are basing their picks (or guesses) on the same information as the rest of us. Especially frustrating are the segments where we get the hot tip to start LaDainian Tomlinson. What I've realized over the last couple of years is that I can guess as well as any supposed "expert" with a website, and the website guys (like you) are the ones that have the space and time to really, really focus on the trends. The guys on ESPN (for example) don't have the time or expertise to explain why they like a guy for that week. After a while, all this shallow analysis becomes mere "noise" to the experienced fantasy owner, and patronizing noise at that. I don't know about you or anyone else, but when I am being patronized by an expert providing first level analysis, I want to throw a brick through the TV, and it’s almost enough to make me want to chuck the whole shebang.

I don't know if this is really responsive to the issues you were hoping to explore. These are the FF issues that frustrate me, and almost make me feel like quitting.


Like Scot, Tim appears to be “almost” at the end of his tether with fantasy football, but he seems only ready to quit playing in certain kinds of leagues (instead of forgoing fantasy altogether):

Interesting timing for this question, as I have just been contemplating the same thing over the last couple of weeks. First off, I am a die-hard fantasy football player, a 10-year vet, typically playing in at least 3 money leagues, commish of my own new league this year, and dabble in baseball and basketball as well. I love fantasy—always have. But this year...things are changing. It's not as fun. The stakes are higher, winning and losing means more, and I feel like I'm starting to care too much about things outside of my control.

This all culminated 2 weeks ago with the late-week scoring change on McNabb's TD to Brown/Buckhalter. I of course had McNabb, and this scoring change turned my loss to a win. Except [my] terrible fantasy website didn't make the change. So I had to lobby the commish (who agreed that we should change it), and suffer through TWO league votes, eventually getting defeated in my attempt and getting stuck with the loss. All the while it's perfectly obvious that I'm losing this vote not because of the rules, but because I'm leading my division and people stand to gain more by me getting the loss. Unbelievable. Anyway, while this is all going on, I realized that maybe it's not worth it. Especially in this league, the ultimate high-stakes, 12-team, keeper league that we have been modifying for 8 years to eliminate all shadiness, which plagued us early on. But no matter what we do, EVERY year something happens for owners to get sore about. Without fail, we bicker every year, and it ends up coming between long-standing friendships. So even though I won this league 2 years ago, finished runner-up last year, and still have a good shot at it this year, I'm throwing in the towel. I'll play a flat-entry $25 or $50 league next year, maybe two, but once the stakes start getting this high, ($1200-1500+ for the winner), it's no longer just for fun.

On the flip-side of that, I give my ex-girlfriend's mom advice every week on who she should start. She's a 50+ year old woman, and she LOVES fantasy. So I don't think this fad has run its course yet. It IS fun, and it does make football more fun to follow when you have a stake in it. So for the general public, I don't think it's even peaked yet, much less reached a saturation point. For myself and some others, I'm sure, it has however gotten to a point that the fun vs. investment balance needs to be re-evaluated.

In addition to the fairly detailed meditations of Matt, Scot, and Tim, I received numerous shorter responses along the lines of this one from John:

As for saturation, yes, the world is completely saturated with FF. The reason I loved FF [years ago] was that if you worked hard and had a good draft, you could be assured of doing well. Do your homework each week, scour the stats, and things will work out. Nowadays, with the never-ending [supply of and] demand for info, some of the fun has gone out of it. Anyone can sort the stats of all the players and pick out the best of the bunch. And now the NFL is changing somewhat again. How many teams have a true #1 RB? In the coming years you are going to be faced with more and more teams forcing you to choose between RBs (like Barber and Jones in Dallas).
Some readers will doubtless object that the challenge figuring out which Bell to trust in Denver and which RB will emerge as the go-to guy for the Jets is part of the strategic allure of fantasy football, but the general tenor of John’s response is consistent with what many fantasy diehards appear to be feeling at the moment. Even so, I can’t help thinking that Waldman’s jazz analogy is correct. Even though FF may be alienating more people than it is winning over right now, the hobby has too much going for it to shrivel up and die.

This Week’s Question

A reader named Jim wrote in this week about a potential conversion of his redrafter league to a keeper league. I’ll let him put his question to the readers of this column himself:
I’ve been playing with pretty much the same group of guys in the same 10-team league for three years now, and we talked at this year’s draft about maybe turning the league into a keeper league for next year. I know there are lots of different ways of setting up a keeper league, but we don’t want to do anything extreme. We need come up with some way of handling the transition that isn’t unfair, and I’m not sure what that would be. For instance, the guy with Marques Colston wants to keep him, but he didn’t even draft Colston. He picked him up on waivers a couple of weeks into the season. If we say that Colston is just going to cost him a 16th-round pick next season (our draft goes 16 rounds), then no one else is going to want to do a keeper league because this one owner seems to get too much of an advantage. It sounds like we want to get to the point of keeping 3 players each year, but I don’t think we should start with 3 since we didn’t know for sure that we were going to be moving in this direction during our draft this season. Should we just put the whole thing off for a year? Help.

All suggestions to help Jim with his transition are welcome.

Last Man Standing (Courtesy of Matt & Michael)

For those who are interested, Matthew Schiff has compiled a list of teams that neither he nor his colleague Michael has picked all season: OAK, HOU, GB, CLE, NO, TB, BUF, NYJ, STL or MN. Obviously, all of these teams have won at some point. Picking them on the right weeks has presumably been critical to the success of those who are still alive in their LMS pools.

Matt’s Picks

#3: NY Giants over Dallas (9-3 Season): The Giants lived up to my expectations last week by losing to the Titans on the road. No one would have expected them to give up 24 unanswered points in the fourth quarter, but Eli Manning seems to be really rattled, and his throws are all over the place. Even his short throws are in the dirt with no one around him. That said, the team had a players’ only meeting, and you can bet that the one thing that came out of this meeting is that if they lose this game, their chances for a playoff spot are damaged let alone winning the NFC East. The G-Men need this game more than the Cowboys, and while Bill Parcells has his Cowboys playing their best football all season, look for the home team to eke out a win.

#2: NY Jets at Green Bay (9-3 Season): Green Bay played a very good game against a Seattle team that probably is the second best team in the NFC right now. This week the surprising Jets will show up with a quick strike passing offense that should take advantage of the 29th ranked pass defense that has given up a league leading 21 receiving touchdowns. And while the Jets’ defense didn’t start the season well, they have played great over the last three weeks against New England, Chicago and Houston. Home field advantage may go the Packers, but the win goes to the Jets.

#1: New England over Detroit (9-3 Season): There hasn’t been a game all season in which I felt comfortable picking the Patriots, that is until this week. Jon Kitna is having all sorts of problems behind a week offensive line that has not been helped in the draft in almost six years. And while the wide receivers of the Lions might be better than those on the Patriots, the Lions will be hard pressed to mount a balanced attack with Kevin Jones out of the lineup. This will allow the 3rd ranked rushing defense to game plan for pass blitzes all day long. Meanwhile Tom Brady and Lawrency Maroney should have big days at home as they review and repeat the game plan from Miami’s Thanksgiving Day feast in Motor City.


Michael’s Picks

3 - (6-6) - Chiefs over Browns - Cleveland is imploding, and they hadn't been doing well before that either. The offense just isn't there for the Browns, which means the defense will be on the field a lot. Larry Johnson is already looking forward to the 4th quarter. Trent Green is still working his way back into form, but he hasn't had to put up the big passing numbers yet. He won't need to this week either.

2 - (8-4) - Patriots over Lions - Sometimes New England looks as good as ever and sometimes Detriot is still Detroit. We saw both last week, and I think we'll see it again this week. The Pats are at home and working on building momentum for the playoffs. The Lions keep coming up short or simply get blown out, which I expect to happen this week.

3 - (11-1) - Saints over 49ers - New Orleans is rolling right now. The Niners have improved as the season progresses, but they simply won't be able to keep up with the Saints in the Superdome. Drew Brees should have another big day. He's putting up points and yards no matter who is catching the ball. I think he'd still get it done with a receiving corps of those vending machines.

For responses to this week's fantasy question or to share your LMS picks, please email me no later than 10 a.m. EST on Wednesdays during the football season.

Readers who want to have their fantasy questions answered live, on the air, by Mike Davis are invited to tune into FFEXradio on Friday afternoons at 5:00 p.m. EST. Archived programs are also available.