Many people do not realize that fantasy sports have been around since the 1980s. While at a restaurant in Manhattan named La Rotisserie Francaise with friends, a sportswriter named Daniel Okrent invented the first fantasy league. At the time, because of the name of the restaurant, it was given the name “rotisserie baseball.” The friends had their first draft, kept up with statistics through “The Sporting News” magazine and recorded those statistics by hand.
The 80s and 90s
By 1984 fantasy baseball was gaining popularity, but fantasy football had yet to gain much attention. Two men, Tom Kane Jr. and Cliff Charpentier, wrote the “1984 Fantasy Football Digest,” detailing the rules of fantasy football. Growth of the game continued with magazines and other publications. A 1988 article in “USA Today” stated that more than 500,000 people were now playing the game.
In 1989 “Fantasy Sports Magazine” became the first regular publication covering more than a single fantasy sport. “USA Today” started a weekly column on fantasy baseball in 1992. By 1999 the Fantasy Sports Trade Association was founded. At this time, fantasy sports were becoming a big industry and well known throughout mainstream America.
A New Decade of Fantasy
Prior to studies showing that fantasy sports playing was leading to more sports television viewing, it was seen in a negative light by the professional sports industry. In 2002 the first TV commercials by the NFL were broadcast for fantasy football featuring current football players.
A 2003 Fantasy Sports Trade Association survey showed that 15 million people were playing fantasy football and spending about $150 a year on the pastime. This showed what a big industry fantasy sports was becoming. Newspapers and magazines were hiring writers specifically to cover the fantasy sports world. As such, the Fantasy Sports Writers Association was formed in 2004.
Fantasy Sports Today
An estimate provided by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association showed that 29.9 million people age 12 and above in the U.S. and Canada played fantasy sports in 2007. With this growth, channels like ESPN now broadcast hour-long shows devoted to fantasy sports and players prior to major sports seasons. There are magazines specifically about fantasy sports along with major sports magazines devoting entire issues to the game.
There are now fantasy leagues for all types of sports, from baseball to golf to auto racing, with millions of men and women joining in each day. With this gaining popularity, fantasy has also grown to include non-sports related games, instead focusing on celebrity gossip, movies, politics and reality TV. No matter the chosen sport or hobby, fantasy leagues have become a big business and are here to stay.