It might be a sore point for British fans of the pastime but fantasy sports is very much an American thing, at least in terms of its history. The activity has its roots in the lifetime of one Bill Winkenbach, a California man who invented fantasy golf back in the 1950s. In 1962, Bill created the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League, the first fantasy football league and a mouthful of words if there’s ever been one.
Indian Premier League
Of course, today, the concept of fantasy sports has its fingers in many different pies. Selecting a first eleven is the starting point of most sports video games, for example, though early titles like Pong (1972) were content just to get players on the virtual field. The scalability of fantasy sports, like video games, is arguably why it remains so popular. From a personal endeavour to a national contest, it’s possible to do it all.
With its emphasis on prediction, there are plenty of parallels with sports betting too. Cricket betting, in particular, is a growth industry in places like India, where cricket is a national sport. Modern cricket betting allows players to wager on markets such as top batsman, series winner, and top wicket-taker, among others, but the prospect of simply guessing something correctly provides its own reward.
Sports betting and fantasy sports generally focus on the same top leagues and series, including the Indian Premier League, where the Chennai Super Kings and Delhi Capitals are the current favourites to win the latest cricket betting tips. However, in both fields, places with an emphasis on smaller competitions can be found. In the case of fantasy sports, leagues are often entirely custom.
Lord of the Rings
Football magazine FourFourTwo identifies British man Andrew Wainstein as the brainchild behind the UK version of fantasy football. Before the turn of the millennium, Wainstain latched onto the idea of a mail-based competition that blossomed into a BBC radio show with Frank Skinner and David Baddiel. Wainstein notes that his fantasy football contest began with no money at all, and just a few envelopes.
Cricketer Stuart Broad is one of the more famous fantasy sports players, famously beating 6 million people for overall points in 2018 – at football. However, cricket is growing as a fantasy option. Newspaper The Telegraph hosts its own fantasy cricket league, as do several small clubs, such as Tunbridge Wells CC. Websites like Fantasy Club Sports and Cricket XI are arguably the more likely destination for players, though.
Fantasy sports transcend the activity that they’re based upon, requiring zero knowledge or interest in actual sport. Creator of the fantasy podcast The Gaffer Tapes notes that its leagues are populated with Lord of the Rings fans due to an appearance on the show by Dominic Monaghan, who played Merry in Peter Jackson’s series of epic movies. It’s that accessibility that keeps the activity popular.
While the history of fantasy sports is one of isolated creation, the hobby is rapidly becoming something of a mainstream concern.