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Nearly a Quarter of Americans Play Fantasy Sports

Draft cheat sheet for fantasy football.

Fantasy sports is big business with 21 percent of Americans participating. If the current trend continues, it's going to be a massive industry very soon. Over the last twenty years, the number of Americans playing fantasy sports has grown from a meager half a million in 1988 to an estimated 59.3 million in 2017. What's more, adults who play fantasy sports spend an average of $556 per year on the industry. It's a billion-dollar industry.

Arguments can be made that fantasy sports is bad for professional sports. For example, just this past weekend, many of those who have Todd Gurley on their fantasy team were irate that the L.A. Rams' running back chose not to not run the ball into the end zone. Even though he could've scored a touchdown, running the time down on the clock to ensure that Aaron Rodgers wouldn't get that ball back in his hands was the correct football decision. However, Gurley's correct football decision cost fantasy owners points.

Thankfully, pro athletes don't take the feelings of fantasy owners into consideration. Yet. And therein lies a potential problem.

As fantasy sports continues to grow and inevitably becomes a behemoth industry with billions upon billions of dollars changing hands, will young athletes be able to avoid the allure of making on-field or on-court decisions based on fantasy scores? Is the quality and integrity of professional sports put at risk because of the popularity of fantasy sports? Those are questions that only time can answer.

However, a counter-argument can be made.

According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, "Players are more interested in sports because of fantasy. 64% say they are watching more live sports because of fantasy. 61% say they read more about sports because of fantasy."

If fantasy sports is driving viewers to sporting events, and it appears it is, it's hard to argue that it's bad for the overall business. Weighing the potential for negative consequences against the actual benefits being felt by the overall industry, it's difficult to conclude anything other than fantasy sports is good for professional sports.

Interestingly, yet not surprisingly, statistics bear out that fantasy sports is the purview of college-educated professionals. According to Nielson:

Avid NFL fans who play fantasy sports also stand out for their collective “smarts,” by being 47% more likely than the general population to have done post-graduate work or earned a master’s degree or higher. NFL fans who play fantasy football also earn higher incomes on average than the general population. They are 67% more likely to have a household income of $250,000 or more.

Fantasy sports also appears to tangentially benefit the restaurant industry. Nielson reveals, "Overall, NFL fans who play fantasy sports tend to dine out at various restaurants more than the general population, and they’re 195% more likely to have visited a sports bar in the past 30 days."