Whether it is your home season-long league, game spreads or high stakes DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports) contests, fantasy football and football gambling are very popular.
Some players do not necessarily care about or like fantasy football (Marcellus Bennett, Todd Gurley) while some embrace it (Melvin Gordon, Juju, Leveon Bell). However, regardless of your convictions about fantasy football, you have to agree that it generates a lot of viewership.
The latest study in 2017 told us that there were 59.3 million people that played fantasy sports that year with the average person spending upwards of 500 dollars on it. While a lot of these people are probably football fans outside of just fantasy, a lot of people watch football mostly because they have fantasy players playing. “According to the 2017 ESPN Sports Poll, fans who play fantasy sports are more likely to attend games, read sports news, watch sports highlights and spend money on sports compared to fans who aren’t fantasy players.” (espnpressroom.com) I don’t know about you but I am a lot more motivated to watch a random Monday Night Football game when I have stakes in it. In addition to that, programs like NFL Redzone and Direct TV’s Fantasy Zone were designed to give fantasy football fans easier ways to watch.
What the AAF could have done.
If you are interested in the XFL, there is a fairly solid chance that you kept up with the AAF at least a little bit. The AAF was a great product but really dropped the ball when it came to appealing to the fantasy football community.
While there were a decent amount of sites and twitter accounts that provided AAF fantasy content, official information was very difficult to find. Injury reports were often very inconsistent, inactive lists could be difficult to find and official box scores were non-existent early on. This lack of information led to a lot of frustration in the AAF fantasy community and really reduced its growth.
Secondly, there were very little places to play AAF fantasy. The AAF had no official places to play season-long fantasy (only altfantasysports.com offered it) and the only DFS site that housed it was Fanball. There were plenty of possibilities to create their own fantasy platform on their app or partner with the likes of ESPN, Yahoo, Draft Kings or FanDuel to really promote their product to a larger audience but nothing was done.
How can the XFL learn?
The XFL now has the benefit to learn from these mistakes and make sure they don’t happen again. They can start off with more accessible practice reports. Injury is a huge part of fantasy sports and if the public does not know a player’s status in practice than how can they play him in the coming week? Inactives should be announced by the team’s twitter or another big source an hour or two before game time and box scores, as well as live stat updates, should be easy to find.
Focusing more on official platforms, the XFL should really look into either pioneering their own fantasy platforms or partnering with a large fantasy sports company to provide season-long and DFS leagues. They don’t have to look far either, ESPN has the most popular fantasy football mobile app and the XFL already has a TV deal in place with them. A great time to start advertising this potential partnership would be late December/early January as Fantasy NFL comes to a close. That would give fantasy starved players plenty of time to gather friends and create an XFL league.
Looking at things from a DFS perspective, deals could be had with big brand names like Draft Kings and FanDuel or even Fanball. The NFLPA has a sponsorship deal with Draft Kings and almost every NFL team has a deal with either Draft Kings or FanDuel. An interesting deal that the XFL could emulate is the one between FanDuel and the Jacksonville Jaguars. There is now “FanDuelVille” at Everbank Stadium (home of the Jags) which encourages people to play DFS while at the live game.
The big thing is for the XFL to (a) make their product fantasy-friendly by releasing information and statistics to the public and (b) provide or promote a platform for players to play fantasy football on.
Q&A with former AAF Fantasy Experts
In order to provide other opinions, I asked four former AAF fantasy experts three questions that relate to the topics I covered in this article. Here is a little about the four experts and then the brief Q&As:
Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz): Appeared on podcasts and wrote AAF articles weekly for The Action Network.
Sean Koerner (@The_Oddsmaker): Joined Ian Hartitz in creating AAF rankings for The Action Network. Known for being one of the most accurate NFL ranker.
Matt Gajewski (@Matt_Gajewski): Did 1-2 live streams every week about the AAF on Twitch as well as writing articles for NoExtraPoints.com
John Ferguson (@FantasyFerguson): Helped organize ECR (Expert Consensus Ranking) and wrote weekly season-long articles at FantasyPros.com
Question 1: Do you believe appealing to fantasy football fans will be beneficial to the XFL and why do you think that?
IH: Most definitely. There is a subset of football fans that are obsessed enough with the game to invest their time in a brand-new league – but there might be an even larger group of fantasy football fans that would be interested in passing the time during the dry days of the offseason. Setting up season-long fantasy leagues might be a challenge considering the expected lack of lineup information entering the year. The potentially more-appealing move could be to feature daily fantasy contests to give fans and degenerates alike a chance to get some skin in the game. Ultimately, it’d be silly for the XFL to not do everything in their power to appeal to the ever-growing fantasy football community.
SK: Absolutely. It’s a proven way to get fans more engaged with the league as a whole.
MG: Yes, absolutely. The NFL has seen a spike in viewership since fantasy football’s ascendance. Fantasy football has become an integral part of the viewing experience for the casual fan.
JF: It’s not only beneficial, but it’s basically required at this point. Especially for a developmental league like this where you’re not really going to get the big-name draw that the professional leagues get. Fantasy adds that extra dimension to the game, it brings stats to life and gives players with no name value ground to stand on. It also gets the fans excited and interacting not just with the league but with each other. It gives us a platform as content writers and podcasters to discuss, analyze, and project amongst ourselves.
Question 2: What was one thing that the AAF did well and one thing they did poorly in regards to appealing to fantasy sports/gambling fans?
IH: The AAF had the right idea with appealing to fantasy football fans, but they failed to properly create a technically-sound app in their effort to beat the XFL to the market. The lack of a consistent live box score held back their ability to appeal to fantasy sports and gambling fans alike. It’s simply not as much fun to play fantasy sports or gamble if you’re unable to experience the live sweat. Asking fans to regularly take multiple hours out of a weekend during February, March or April might be a tough sell for the not-so-committed football faithful. At the very least, the XFL needs to provide an avenue for fans to stay updated with the games in a near-live manner. Consistent streaming might not be an option, but a game cast type setup is essential.
SK: I actually liked how the AAF gave the telecast access to the official review. Being able to hear the person deciding the call based on the replay and being fully transparent about it was a very good thing imo. I don’t recall exactly how practice reports and injury designations were handled for AAF but I recall times where we had no idea if a certain guy was playing. Making sure to have rules in place for teams to announce injuries and inactive lists like the NFL would be crucial.
MG: The AAF certainly brought an exciting product to the fan. No extra points, no kickoffs, etc. The rules presented an exciting change that sped up the game for fans at home. However, the AAF clearly used innovative technology. One of the biggest blunders was keeping that from the fans. Football fans increasingly want access to state of the art data.
JF: The AAF understood the importance of fantasy/gambling and how it would help contribute to the success of the league. The concepts they had in place to follow the games in real time and predict plays etc. was a terrific idea. Unfortunately it was also where they failed by not delivering a competent product to their fans. Not only that, but it added insult to injury that they continually promoted these “groundbreaking” stats and concepts even though they were not actually available and hinted at “Easter eggs” within the site which was an awful idea considering the obvious growing frustration stats analysts already had with the league that simple things such as boxscores and proper injury reports were not readily available. The boxscores luckily they finally figured out, but not until after grassroots guys like NoExtraPoints.com already had us well covered.
Question 3: What are some ways the XFL can attract more fantasy/gambling audiences?
IH: In addition to creating a more fan-friendly avenue for live updates, ways in which the XFL could attract more fantasy/gambling audiences include… -creating a partnership with DraftKings, FanDuel or at least FanBall. -provide official active/inactive reports at least 60 minutes before kickoff. Practice and injury reports throughout the week would also be ideal. -a website that denotes official stats, official rosters and unofficial depth charts. -as much access as possible to live/post-live video of the games so fans can either watch them happen or at least catch them later.
SK: I think just embracing fantasy/gambling is always a good place to start. Having an official fantasy game and especially weekly contests would be a great way to draw fans in and become familiar with the specific players.
MG: Find a way to partner with DraftKings, FanDuel, and other major fantasy sports websites. Right now, DraftKings and Fanduel capture a large portion of the gambling market.
JF: XFL needs to pair with some of the major fantasy platforms and get their support whether it be ESPN, Yahoo, CBS, whatever. This was something the AAF never was able to do, although Fanball did pick them up and delivered a stellar platform for DFS. With sports betting becoming more legal across all states as well, it would be truly beneficial for them to set up with the online sports book industry. They also need to make sure there truly are no gimmicks as it sounds like they have decided. People want raw, professional quality football to watch in the Spring. Pair with proper NFL caliber analysts instead of bringing in WWE names as commentators and make sure there is a clear and open line of communication between the league and the public. I think there is potential for a spring league to have continued success and I look forward to covering the XFL come Spring.
17-year-old football fan. Team Reporter for Seattle XFL.