If you hadn’t noticed already, fantasy sports are sweeping the world over. Wives from every country are asking themselves, “Weren’t there enough real sports to keep my sports hungry husband satisfied?”  Apparently not, as millions of sports fans support this $70 billion plus industry, yet others have never even heard of it.  What are fantasy sports?  How did this phenomenon come about and what is the lure that keeps them coming back?

The first recorded fantasy sport was, surprisingly, golf. Concocted by former Oakland Raiders partner Wilfred Wickenbach in 1950, it was simple to manage as each participant selected a team of golfers and was only concerned with the scores of his or her team. Wickenbach formed the first fantasy football league in 1962 with just eight teams. The difference between real and fantasy sports is that although imaginary teams were created from real players of many different teams, the fantasy teams never actually play. Their scores are based on the performance of each player individually in the real games they did play. Confusing? Imagine how complicated it was when scores were all done by hand.

Fantasy baseball followed suit in 1976, but still didn’t become popular until USA Today began publishing weekly articles on fantasy baseball.  Fantasy Sports Magazine, which debuted in 1989, was the first regular sports publication featuring more than one fantasy sport.  And then came the Internet and fantasy sports exploded. From the estimated 500,000 players in the USA and Canada in 1988, 2016 boasted 57.4 million active fantasy sports players.

With the incredible rise in popularity, major media outlets like ESPN, FoxSports and Yahoo all host fantasy football leagues.  Online sports betting operations have come to understand the power and popularity of fantasy sports as well.  Recently, UK based BetStars launched a $1 million promotion with StarsDraft daily fantasy sports platform, combining the best of fantasy football with real tournaments.

Even the NFL is on board as the commissioner has predicted that fantasy football may actually overtake the NFL in popularity in the years to come. They are even exploring Xbox, DirecTV and Madden integration to make it easier and more convenient to check, change and win your fantasy league no matter where you are.  NFL is currently one of the top mainstream hosts because of their unique app integration.

So, who is playing these fantasy sports? The demographics and younger, better educated and have better incomes than your average Sunday football fan.  66% of the demographics are male with an average age of 38.6, a college degree and a household income of $75k or more. 67% of these folks have full time employment and spend an average of $556 per fantasy player.

While fantasy sports are booming, the future is difficult to predict. A few years ago, fantasy spots platforms like FanDuel and DraftKings were virtually unheard of and today they are billion dollar companies.  The industry is changing daily and operators are rushing to keep up or risk going under.  The Fantasy Sports Trade Association has estimated that almost 10% of the industry has gone bottom up in the last 6-8 months, mainly due to their inability to keep up with the times. With the boom so comes new regulations and with that lies much uncertainty. For now, the advertising and marketing continues to dominate regularly televised sport season and players are already considering their 2017-2018 teams.

Image: “On Any Given Sunday” by John Morgan | Licensed under CC BY 2.0