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How did Fantasy Football achieve the status it has today?

While many fans are solely focused on what happens on the pitch, the Fantasy Football community is growing every year. From the draft at the beginning of the season, right the way through to the Superbowl, gridiron (as the game is also known) provides a great way to keep engaged with the on-field action.

With each passing week we are getting closer to the start of the new football season and all that it brings with it. 

While many fans are solely focused on what happens on the pitch, the Fantasy Football community is growing every year. From the draft at the beginning of the season, right the way through to the Superbowl, gridiron (as the game is also known) provides a great way to keep engaged with the on-field action. 

The 2021/2022 campaign is set to be the biggest in years as well. Fantasy Football was not an overnight success story, though. It may be extremely popular now — perhaps even more prominent than its soccer equivalent — but for many years, it was a niche pursuit. 

How did it grow to take over the world? Read on to find out…

What is Fantasy Football?

Never tried Fantasy Football before? It is a fairly simple concept. It all starts with the draft at the beginning of the season. Here, you select your squad of players for the season. You want to select the NFL or NCAA stars — depending on what league you are playing — you think are going to do well that year. 

The better your players do, the more points you get. For instance, wide receivers get points for scoring touchdowns, while quarterbacks are rewarded for completing passes. Defensive linebackers, meanwhile, will get points for sacks and tackles. Other actions that score points include fumble recoveries, rushes and converted field goals. Essentially, if you see it on the stats sheet it will earn you points in some way. 

Over the season you will also complete trades with other players in your league, as well sign up any players who do not get taken in the original draft. Injuries, suspensions and poor form will likely force you into some squad management at some point, even if you draft well at the beginning.

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In terms of prizes some friendly leagues simply play for rewards they organise themselves. However, there is also the option to bet on Fantasy Football. This can be a good option for those willing to put in the extra research to win. 

The Origins of Fantasy Football

So, how did it all begin? Fantasy Football’s story started in a hotel room in Oakland, California. The concept was the brainchild of Oakland Raiders part-owner Will Winkenbach. Winkenbach has already brought fantasy golf and baseball to the world and with vital contributions from Oakland Tribune sports reporter Scotty Sirling and Raiders PR man Bill Tunnell, he added football to his portfolio in 1963.

The trio christened the initial league  the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League (GOPPPL). At first the league was restricted to members of the Raiders with just eight players involved in the first ever Fantasy Football season. 

After around five years one of the groups, Andy Mousalimas, took the game to the masses. Mousalimas told drinkers in an Oakland sports bar about Fantasy Football and, unsurprisingly, they were extremely interested. Soon after several other local leagues were set up and the game has not stopped expanding since. 

The Growth of Fantasy Football

Throughout the 1970s Fantasy Football travelled further afield than California and by the 1980s around one million American were playing it every season. There is some evidence of expats taking the game across the world as well. 

There was a bustling community, with the Fantasy Football Digest magazine selling well over the course of the decade. An even bigger innovation in the early 1990s was the arrival of computer programmes which made tracking statistics a breeze. This meant players no longer had to keep a record of everyone’s points in paper form.

The technology also made it much easier for other countries to get involved. In 1991 Andrew Wainstein brought the game to England, setting up Fantasy League Ltd. One year earlier Riccardo Albini had set up his own league in Italy. 

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Modern Fantasy Football

By far and away the most influential innovation to Fantasy Football was the internet. The first ever online version of the game was launched by CBS Sports in 1997, with Yahoo following suit two years later. Since then, hundreds of other companies have got in on the act. 

The arrival of the internet had a transformative effect on Fantasy Football. Notably, it meant that friends no longer had to be in the same place when doing the draft, they could simply select their players from the comfort of their own home. Of course, most people do still meet up for the fun of it — and for the snacks of course!

Smartphones have had a similarly revolutionary effect on Fantasy Football. Now, players carry around in their pockets the means to make last minute changes to their team before a Gameweek. This has acted to make the game truly portable. As long as you have a reliable internet connection you can make trades and alterations no matter where you are in the world.

Social media has been a game changer as well, encouraging the growth of full-time Fantasy Football analysts whose advice costs a pretty penny. 

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