The design of fantasy football couldn’t be more straightforward: create a team from a huge library of current players from any sport, and compare your performance to other players using a statistical breakdown of games as they occur in the real world.
With everyone bringing different perspectives and beliefs to the game, it’s highly unlikely that two players will have the same team and alternatives. This is the selling point, as the system remunerated players based on their knowledge and understanding of the game. The only greater drama than fantasy football is what happens on the pitch.
The primary idea for fantasy football wasn’t British. In fact, it came from the Americas with the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League (GOPPPL)—hardly a mouthful, that. The original fantasy league was the brainchild of Wilfred “Bill the Hill” Winkenbach and was designed according to the American football system, complete with fullbacks and quarterbacks. Winkenbach even included linemen.
Then, along came Andrew Wainstein, who stumbled on the American fantasy sports and devised a version based on the UK football system. Now, Wainstein wasn’t anywhere near the sports level and involvement of Winkenbach, who was part-owner of the Oakland Raiders, now called the Las Vegas Raiders.
Wainstein was down on his luck when he started the structure of arguably one of the biggest sports franchises currently. He locked himself away in his sister’s old bedroom for three months, spending the bulk of his time creating the system we know today on a bunch of envelopes. When he finished, Wainstein began introducing his creation to the world through ad placements in football magazines.
The media soon got involved, and fantasy football exploded into the spotlight, with the BBC debuting the infamous Fantasy Football League on Radio 5 Live. Next, it was on TV, and before you knew it, the internet was here.
Fantasy Football in The Digital Casino Age
The dawn of the internet age meant a lot for many games, whether it was played in casinos, at home, or in tiny groups that met at pubs to engage in sports banter. It gave us an exciting history of poker (among other things)—which before then had grown bigger than its humble beginnings and was morphing into new varieties and absorbing new rules. Hence, the birth of the World Series of Poker and the establishment of No Limit Texas Hold’Em as the most popular version of the card game.
Just as poker was breaking into the internet space and pioneering some of the first online casinos, fantasy football was not far behind. It received an international licence and was available to all who cared to fire up the internet and have a go at it. Wainstein, who had become the poster boy for the new entertainment source, recounted how several customers didn’t know they could access other platforms outside of fantasy football. They had signed up for the internet just to play and had never been to other sites.
Fantasy Sports Now: The Birth of the FPL
Usually, American sports like baseball and gridiron football contain sections that can be readily evaluated into quantifiable data using statistical analysis. This isn’t the same for football in the United Kingdom and Europe, where football is one of the most dominant sports and cannot be accurately predicted. You’d think this disparity favours the Americas, but that couldn’t be further from the truth.
The future of fantasy sports largely lies in football, which does more numbers than the NFL globally, and is attracting more fans and participants to fantasy football than anything the United States can muster.
Fantasy football’s entry into the world of football is rather late, thanks in part to the sport being significantly more difficult to evaluate and predict. How do we know? Newly-promoted Leicester City went on to clinch the English Premier League trophy ahead of the big six during their second stint in the top flight in the 2015/16 season. The Foxes literally overcame a 5,000-1 odds to win the much-coveted title.
But despite being late to the game, football took its fantasy alternative pretty seriously, which saw a huge spike in interest and participation. Since the EPL’s official fantasy football game was developed in 2002, it’s only gotten better each year.
While growth isn’t quite at a steady 40% per annum yet, the uptake has been nothing short of commendable. There are over 2 million participants in the game today, joining from more than 200 different regions worldwide
Factor in the fact that fantasy football in the UK and Europe is largely free-to-play and has a presence in sports broadcasts, and it makes sense why the growth of the game is in tandem with increasing analysis and participation.