Fantasy Sports Bounces Back


By: Mark Sullivan

At this point in my life there is not much I can brag about that will impress my college-aged children, but one story that recently captured their attention concerned Fantasy Baseball.

I was among the earliest adopters to a game we called Rotisserie Baseball. This was a pre-cursor to today’s fantasy sports. It was invented by a Manhattan journalist named Daniel Okrent and named for La Rotisserie Française, the restaurant where the first players held their draft and laid out the ground rules.

In my early days of Rotisserie baseball, there was no Internet, so we kept statistics on legal pads and scrounged for information on radio broadcasts and in newspapers. I once interrupted a dinner date with my first wife to call the press box at Candlestick Park in San Francisco to check on an injured player. My wife cited that story in her divorce filing, but hey, I came in first place that year.

Today, Fantasy sports is a huge business and one that took a big bounce back in 2020 during the Pandemic. As you can see in the charts below, Fantasy sports participation declined in 2019 but recovered well in 2020. Like many occurrences in consumer behavior in 2020, SBRnet president and Chief Data Officer Neil Schwartz is trying to determine whether the Fantasy resurgence is an anomaly or the start of an upward trend.

"It's not an anomaly but more of a direct reflection of what is happening at the moment. While we typically like to look backwards to get a handle on the future, the assumptions of the past are no longer valid."

% of fans participating in Fantasy Sports over 3 Years

  2018 2019 2020
MLB 9% 7% 12%
NBA 13% 10% 19%
College Basketball 9% 4% 12%
NFL 17% 16% 22%
College Football 8% 5% 11%
NHL 9% 6% 12%
MLS 11% 7% 18%

The easy explanation for the growth in fantasy is that fans turned to it as a replacement for not being able to attend games. On top of that, major organizations such as ESPN, CBS Sports and others all run robust fantasy games on their sites that make it easy to sign up and play. Trust me it’s way better than tabulating numbers on a legal pad stained with red wine.

Interestingly, Fantasy Sports also provides a stepping stone to legalized sports betting. As shown in the charts below. Fantasy sports players are way more likely to bet on sports than the population as a whole.

"According to our most recent study of Sports Fans, completed in Q4 of 2020, sports marketers need to look no further than to people that play fantasy sports as a viable and efficient target market. The study shows very clearly that fantasy sports players over index the general population and sports fans in general when it comes to key money-making categories like sports gambling, sales of licensed products and eventually returning to live sporting events. While our data also points out that all Fantasy Sports Players are not created equal, it does show they offer a targeted solution for various sports-related businesses to get back on track more quickly."

% of fantasy players of the specific sport betting on sporting events/games overall in past 12 months

  2020
MLB 58%
NBA 53%
College Basketball 60%
NFL 44%
College Football 54%
NHL 62%
MLS 64%

% of fantasy players of the specific sport betting on the specific sport in past 12 months

  2020
MLB 40%
NBA 38%
College Basketball 34%
NFL 36%
College Football 35%
NHL 33%
MLS 40%

All data in these charts comes from our annual fan study conducted exclusively for SBRnet by Irwin Broh and Associates. For the past 10 years, SBRnet has asked consumers, 13 years and older about their level of fandom, engagement and interaction with their favorite professional leagues and teams together with college and minor league sports. The results are based on the responses of all consumers 13-years and-older with a sample balanced to the population of the US, based on Age, Income, Gender, Household Income and Geography. The full results of the study are available to SBRnet subscribers. If you’re interested in a copy of the executive summary, e-mail: info@sbrnet.com

Posted: 5/3/2021 3:05:21 PM

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