57 million sports nerds can’t be wrong

Pound & Grain's Scott Lew on why marketers should think differently when it comes to the fantasy sports fan.


By Scott Lew

Quick, what type of game – not named Pokémon Go! – are tens of millions of Canadians dialled into every single year?

Times up. It’s fantasy sports.

Over the course of the last 10 years, there’s been a steady increase of fantasy players to the point where there are now over 57 million across the board in Canada and the U.S. Whether it’s daily or weekly “pick’em” games or season-long rotisserie leagues, people are playing and they’re playing often. As marketers, it’s time to take serious notice of what’s happening here. There’s an opportunity to reach this massive audience, but we have to be smart about it. How smart? Fantasy sports-smart.

So what exactly are fantasy sports games? Here’s a quick, noob-friendly explanation. Fantasy games aren’t just simply point and click, instant gratification-style games, nor are they heavily involved worlds where players are destined to slay the dragon and save the princess. Fantasy games are a competitively social interpretation of one-upmanship that often require an intense amount of studying and examination. Because of this, fantasy gamers are researching non-stop, constantly looking for the edge that’s going to give them permission to brag to their friends. The result is a huge influx of information seekers, planners, researchers and obsessed gamers.

A bandwagon worth jumping on

Brands like Yahoo, ESPN, CBS, and Bleacher Report have taken serious notice and dedicated entire publications specifically to fantasy games. Professional leagues including the NBA, NHL, NFL and CFL have created their own league-supported official fantasy games (including one from our shop). Entertainment properties have tapped into the fantasy mentality with TV shows like FX’s The League. The FNTSY Sports Network is a Canadian TV channel entirely devoted to fantasy sports. Brands like Dove and Hilton Hotels have started to dip their toes in the fantasy sports space. There’s even a fantasy league where you try to determine which movies will have big box office openings. The list goes on, but one thing that these brands and entertainment properties have realized is that the fantasy mentality is different than the mentality of the casual sports fan.

Just as publications and sports brands have taken notice, marketers and purveyors of content should start to re-categorize how they structure their ad buys and messaging towards fantasy gamers. As media savvy thinkers, we need to start thinking of fantasy gamers as a different category than typical sports fans. If you thought of general sports fans as doctors, a fantasy gamer is like a surgeon. Every move is calculated, every choice affects the bigger picture, and every decision is well-researched. Where general sports fans can scan headlines and 140-character write-ups about their favourite teams and players to get their fix, fantasy gamers search for statistical breakdowns, analytics, and numbers to feel any sort of satisfaction. They are looking for insights and reading between the lines hoping to gain an edge.

All stats, all the time

Lately the topic de jour that’s been changing the way we look at sports is actually something closely related to fantasy, and that’s analytics. Sports statistics was brought to mainstream audiences by movies like Moneyball, but fantasy gamers have been studying the intricacies of the numbers for decades. A recent study by The Fantasy Sports Trade Association revealed that 64% of all fantasy players are watching more live sports simply because of the fantasy implications. Furthermore, 61% of all players are saying they actually read more about sports because of fantasy. But one of the most staggering numbers to come out of the study is that 54% of players would actually cancel a league supported TV channel or satellite service if not for fantasy sports.

There have already been thousands of words dedicated to the monetary reasons people play, but from an emotional standpoint, one of the biggest drivers for fantasy gamers is the competitiveness. Digital connectivity is rampant and we’re simmering in a culture that feeds off bragging rights and one-upmanship. And with its natural sports-driven emotion, friendly competitiveness, and social connectivity, fantasy is the perfect storm.

So what can we do with this information? Good question. In marketing, one of the trendier buzz-terms of the last few years has been “authenticity,” and for good reason. Through the lens of fantasy, consider an authentic fantasy message and develop creative around how a sports event can affect a fantasy roster, a bracket challenge, or a pick’em game. Speak to friendly bragging rights and tap into the social competitiveness.

Moving forward, as your media company or agency starts researching those who typically consume sports content, don’t ignore the uniqueness of fantasy players, what they are looking for, and how they are consuming their content. Because no matter what season, fantasy games and the subsequent content reach millions every day. 57 million and counting.

ScottScott Lew is ACD at Toronto and Vancouver-based digital creative agency Pound & Grain.

Featured image via Shutterstock