Monday, 13 July 2015

The Fantasy Sport Industry: Games within games a book review

Billings Andrew C (@andrewcbillingsand Ruihley Brody J (@ruihley(2014) The Fantasy Sport Industry: Games within games Routledge 

Confession time. I was not a train spotter nor am I a stats nerd. I’ve been aware of fantasy sport leagues and even celebrity ones speculating on their death of divorce. I was surprised to discover that there is Fantasy Sport Trade Association (FSTA) whose website provides updates on Billings and Ruihley’s 2012 figures.

Fantasy sports players are younger, better educated, with higher household incomes and more likely to have full-time employment:
66% Male
Average Age: 37
College Degree or More: 57%
Have a household income of $75k+: 47%
Have full-time employment: 66%
Average Annual Spending Per Fantasy Player: $465
Favorite Fantasy Sport: Football (73%)
Fantasy Sports Players that Pay League Fee: 60%

Also Andy Murray, real sportsman, is said to keep his fantasy soccer trophy in front of his tennis ones.

And, further confession, my interest in this book is as criminologist seeking to examine sport so this skews my review. Self confessed fantasy league player and viewer of ESPN’s programming about fantasy sport and even the drama series The League  Shawn E. Klein The Sport Ethicist reviews Billings and Ruihley here.

Given the large sums of money now involved and the extent of crime within and alongside online games I had expected some mention. There is some mention of legal matters particularly around betting. Thus there have been legal challenges to fantasy leagues that it is a form of betting and certainly its use of statistics mirrors those beloved of legal and illegal gambling. Both legal and illegal gambling have lead to match and spot fixing but perhaps these are some of the things that might arise in the future. There are other things they might like to examine in the future. Klein particularly asks what effect fantasy sports have had on ‘real’ sport.

But in reality this is more like a media book or, indeed, for the American market and college system, a communications book and is to be commended as such.

In Chapter 2 we discover (except it turns out how we might expect) why people play.  They play for all the reasons people play any game or sport. It is here I might have expected something on cheating but nothing here or elsewhere. A couple of late mentions of ethics in the concluding chapter (7) are about it. The Code of Ethics of FSTA forbids gambling and we are told the FTSA developed those ‘in response to some ethical debacles such as the folding of the World Championship of Fantasy Football (WCOFF) (p142). They give no further details and the internet has not found me any information save it seems to be in rude health currently.

In Chapter 3 the demographics are examined and again as the FSTA figures above confirm men of a certain age and income. They mention gender throughout but offer no analysis, though where women play their consumption of sport rises like men’s. Similarly ethnicity is essentially a category about which stats are given and differential uptake puzzled over. Participation of black players in Basketball and identification with by urban youth might have prompted some interest in fantasy play but perhaps the intersection of class might be relevant here.

Chapter 4 is given over to US based ‘major players’ in the FSTA and the media ties in that country should be noted. Fantasy sport there, like sport is highly integrated with the media whereas in the UK there is some separation with fantasy sport piggy-backing off sport (to the annoyance of rights owners?).

Chapter 5 examines the role of money. High stakes players are, not unsurprisingly, financially motivated but still get a ‘rush’ and are less likely to have a favourite team or favour any team over their fantasy selection. Both found some companionship in play.  I wonder if they ‘bowled alone’ or this more participatory screen use was better than TV (Putnam suggests, ‘Watching commercial entertainment TV is the only leisure activity where doing more of it is associated with lower social capital’). I agree with Klein that, ‘various views on the relationship between gambling and fantasy but it is not clear how they view it.’  Perhaps this as the whole book feels almost like a report or pitch to the board of FSTA not a piece of critical scholarship (see comment on Chapter 6 too).

Chapter 6 is on why people give up playing.  In criminology this is called desistance and maturation often given a prime spot.

Again it is difficult to disagree with Klein who says:
There might be some useful tidbits for someone in the industry who is trying to identify how to head off customer attrition, but in terms of getting a better understanding of the industry and its participants, there wasn’t as much here as I would have liked.

So fascinating to the ‘non-fantasist’ and to the industry and a chance for the Schwabist (NB to non-US users: some may know the term ‘maven’ but Schwabism had me stumped) player to nit-pick and suggestive of further work into other areas and informed by theory.


  1. That is really interesting. The sums of money involved are ridiculous to be honest. Especially since Yahoo has made the deal with DraftKings a lot of things have changed, Third-party websites like doing analyses on DraftKings and gaining popularity by themselves. I'm really curious where this whole thing is going to go and whether it will only be a trend.

  2. I liked the arrows for their help in organizing your notes.