There is no shortage of great NFL match-ups on Sunday, but for Yahoo fantasy football players, like me, the only games that matter are the ones you can’t get information on.
Yahoo, along with ESPN and CBS Sports, is one of the biggest fantasy sports sites, generating nearly $1 billion each year, much of it from football. Normally, it’s easy money, but this week it was a big problem. Yahoo’s fantasy site and mobile app went down before kickoff, keeping millions from making last-minute lineup changes. I was rendered blind to the score of my match-ups through the day, drastically altering the way I watched my sports.
This is my typical Sunday football routine: living room couches are crowded together — two friends per a cushion — as we watch games on TV and check broadcasts on laptops. Each guest holds an electronic device of some sort, be it an iPhone or iPad, with a live feed of their week’s match-up.
Much of the time the TV goes unwatched, and between every play and during each commercial there’s no talking, no eating or even drinking. Just silence, as everyone looks down at their devices to see how action around the league has affected their fantasy game. The only exchanges come in the form of smack-talk or audible groaning — when Adrian Peterson breaks off a 70-yard touchdown run against an opposing team.
What I endured on Sunday — a world without fantasy football — existed not too long ago, but few dared to imagine it. No one took it harder than Steve, my league’s resident fantasy guru. By the fourth quarter of the early afternoon games, Steve had enough. His frustration might be related to the fact the Cincinnati Bengals pounded his New York Giants, but more likely it was the need to know whether his team, “Rice Rice Baby,” had beaten his opponent of the week, “Here for Beer.”
“Get me a pad and paper!” he said, resorting to more traditional means after countless failed attempts to log on to Yahoo.
After granting Steve’s request — no wait, his demand — he got to work, writing down the name of each player on his team, and then sorting through box scores of each game from ESPN’s website — painstakingly translating stats into fantasy points. Six points for every touchdown, a point for each reception for receivers, another point for every 10 rushing yards for running backs. When he finished, his sheet held a series of mathematical equations. Everyone hovered as he calculated the score.
The effort was a valiant one, but it was never more than a temporary fix. Within minutes, as the games continued and players’ stats changed, the calculations would need to be repeated.
Friendly competition, in the form of a small cash prize to first, second and third place finishers fuel our fantasy football passion. But across the country, millions more that play for higher stakes make Steve’s reaction seem incredibly mild.
The story here is not about how crazy fantasy players are — there’s an entire show about that on FX — Yahoo’s incompetence — there is plenty of that — or even the money that changes hands as a result of games each week — and trust me, there is a lot of it. Last weekend showed just how much technology has completely altered, for better or worse, the way we watch sports.
When I was young, my father would invite his friends over to watch the game, in a scene far different than what it is today. The only entertainment I had, outside of the game itself, was refilling drinks for them all, and their only entertainment, beyond the gridiron, was watching me carry them.
Fantasy football has become so big that it has helped make the NFL the most popular event in America. Don’t believe it? In addition to the millions playing online, downloading apps and keeping a device within arms’ reach during games, there are also the TV ratings. Last Sunday night’s regular season showdown between the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears delivered higher ratings than the first two nights of this year’s MLB World Series combined — ratings high enough to rule prime time TV lineups any night of the week.
Why would someone from New York, Miami, New England or Washington tune into a game between two teams’ miles from the Atlantic seaboard? Sure, part of the reason is that it’s a good game, but more likely, it’s because millions of people in other cities have those players on their fantasy teams.
In the age of high-speed Internet, smartphones and apps, hundreds of businesses and industries are adopting technology to boost their bottom line. The NFL did it seamlessly and with practically no effort whatsoever. All the league does is put its basic product of 32 teams out on the field to do battle every Sunday. The rest takes care of itself.
Companies like Yahoo and CBS Sports provide fantasy services and the ripple effect is felt through multiple industries. The NFL receives higher ratings, ESPN creates entire shows around fantasy sports, networks command more for advertising, Bud Light reaches more consumers and an entire football culture explodes upon America like never before.
Sometimes, it’s only in the absence of an everyday thing, like fantasy football, that the incredible influence of technology is truly felt. The NFL has always been an institution, but over the past decade, it has undergone a revolution that has made it incredibly accessible and attractive to younger audiences.
I’m not saying the NFL wouldn’t thrive without fantasy, but it does helps, and it’s only possible with a little technology, as Yahoo so aptly proved to me this weekend. ♦