When the Lockout Ends, Will Fans Come Back to Fantasy Football?

Released: 15-Jun-2011 1:50 PM EDT
Source Newsroom: University of Iowa
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Newswise — When football team owners locked out their players in March and shut down the NFL, they may have shut down thousands of fantasy football leagues with them. So what happens to fantasy football this fall if the NFL and its players can't come to a new labor agreement?

Jeff Ohlmann, a University of Iowa business professor, thinks many fans will return quickly, if they ever leave.

"For many people, fantasy football has become a means to stay in touch with friends and family," said Ohlmann, who uses fantasy football and other fantasy sports as a research and teaching tool, and also manages a team of his own. "Even if the lockout extends into the fall, I think that there will be many fantasy leagues conducting their drafts in late August and September."

Fantasy sports has become big business in recent years and rakes in billions of dollars, and fantasy football is far and away the biggest of them. An estimated 20 million participants owned teams last season, and selling and marketing things to those owners has become lucrative. Time magazine reported that the average fantasy team owner paid $73 to join a league in 2009, and while companies like Yahoo! and ESPN.com offer membership in basic leagues for free, they add fees for premium services.

Magazines and pay-walled websites offer statistics and expert commentary to help owners plan their draft and management strategy, and other businesses provide weekly player updates and advice for a fee. Other companies sell insurance or online trophies. Advertisers are also willing to pay to get their businesses in front of fantasy players' eyeballs.

But next season is in limbo since NFL team owners locked out their players in a dispute over how to divide the tens of billions of dollars the league earns every season. While the sides are talking, the next NFL season is a question mark, and all those fantasy leagues are in limbo, too.

Ohlmann, an assistant professor of management sciences, has studied fantasy football from an analytical perspective for years. One of his research themes is using quantitative analysis to develop draft models for fantasy sports leagues. He's also developing an iPhone app with his own algorithm to help fantasy football owners decide which players to draft for the upcoming season.

If there is a season, of course. Ohlmann said he expects there will still be a market of some kind for his app because he thinks hardcore football fans will not lose interest in fantasy football despite the lockout.

"I anticipate there will still be a lot of attention on fantasy football," he said. "People will conduct mock drafts late this summer and perhaps even conducting their league drafts so their teams are ready whenever the season starts.

"It's the casual fan who might lose interest and not participate in fantasy football this summer, or even after a new labor agreement is signed and the teams start playing again," he said.

That could mean trouble for some businesses that bank on revenue from fantasy leagues.

"The businesses that are sweating are the ones that offer weekly advice or updates for a fee because every week without football is a week without revenue," he said. "I think people are just going to keep their fingers crossed and hope people stay interested."

Ohlmann said he's definitely staying interested.

"My league has its draft scheduled for Aug. 26 whether the labor dispute has been settled or not," he said.


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