DirecTV saw the popularity of their Red Zone Channel and fantasy football, so they decided to launch a new channel for 2014. The Fantasy Zone Channel debuted when the season started and you may have stumbled on it as it’s located on Channel 704, just below the Red Zone channel. The obvious question may be: why do we need the Fantasy Zone Channel when we already have the internet and DirecTV? It’s a fair query because I asked the same thing at first, but it was pointed out to me that people in 2014 want to consume information and opinions as quickly as possible. I should know since people are asking me lineup questions as early as Tuesday, not realizing there are usually five more days of information that could influence a decision.
To get an idea of what actually happens on the Fantasy Zone Channel, I headed down to their “fan cave” (aka studio) when I was invited back in early February. It’s not your regular studio, however, as this one has a kitchen, 12 recliners, a couple couches, and a wall with every game on the air. I was pretty hungry when I showed up because it was around lunchtime, so it’s a good thing ESPN’s Mark Schlereth was in that kitchen cooking up Eggs Benedict topped with his famous Green Chile. I was surprised too, but if you Google “Mark Schlereth Green Chile,” you’ll see it’s kind of a thing. The dish tasted pretty good, so I can see why.
But back to the football, the Fantasy Zone Channel is led by Kay Adams, NBC’s best-looking fantasy host, alongside fantasy expert John Hansen, aka the Fantasy Guru, and former NFL players Dhani Jones and Jon Ritchie. The four of them are locked in for seven hours, breaking into what resembles Red Zone Channel coverage with on-going analysis as breakouts, injuries, and star performances happen. Stats scroll across the screen throughout the telecast, so it’s easier to keep track of your guys than watching another network. The team recaps the early games and late games right after they go final, highlighting performances and providing analysis.
Dr. Mark Adickes, a former Super Bowl winning offensive lineman no less, chimes in when the injuries happen to let you know if you should worry after your star player goes down or should be running to the waiver wire (although you might have to wait a few days) for the backup who just turned into a starter. It’s actually pretty cool to watch him break down the injury using a visual of a human body on huge TV and I learned that that a second high ankle sprain actually keeps a player out for less time than the first one to the same leg. (That first one probably killed your fantasy team, though.)
Currently the Fantasy Zone Channel focuses on season-long fantasy football, which is more popular and familiar to everyone. Going forward there will probably be more time spent on Daily Fantasy (DFS) because of its rising interest, but the Fantasy Guru doesn’t think that season-long fantasy football is going anywhere. “It’s just not as intimate,” said Hansen.
He has a fair point. He pointed out that what we love most about fantasy football is the interaction with friends/family and the trash talking. I can’t argue with that.
The crowd atmosphere adds a nice element to being at the “fan cave” (and probably watching it on TV) as people go nuts after a big touchdown or let out a highly audible groan when a quarterback misses a wide-open receiver for a long touchdown. The on-air talent commented how it was sometimes tough to concentrate when that happened. It was a nice touch on the day we were there that a group of serviceman were also there to watch the games as it was Veteran’s Day weekend. (They liked Schlereth’s Green Chile too.) Watching all the games while laying back in a recliner is never a bad thing.
Sometimes fun guests make an appearance. Last weekend Adam Richman was there to talk food, while the guys from Artichoke Pizza in New York City were in the kitchen. But the best moments of the year for the Fantasy Guru were when Jerry Springer and Steve Rannazzisi (Kevin MacArthur from FXX’s The League) were in the house. Brian Westbrook was hanging out when I was there. He’s slightly less funny than Rannazzisi, but is probably better at football.
Since I’m a fantasy football guy, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask the Fantasy Guru for some of his opinions over the last few weeks of the season. He’s very high on Kenny Stills and we saw why after Stills put up a really big game against Pittsburgh over the weekend. He also likes the Tennessee passing game going forward because their upcoming schedule is very favorable. Games against the Giants, Jets, Jaguars, and Colts should allow for production from Zach Mettenberger, Delanie Walker, Kendall Wright, and Justin Hunter if he recovers from the lacerated spleen. Finally, he’s riding Matt Stafford, who tore up the Bears on Thanksgiving and gets to face them again in Week 16. Home games against the Buccaneers and Vikings don’t look too bad either.
All in all, it was a good day at the Fantasy Zone Channel “fan cave”. The on-air talent has as much fun as those of us watching the games although we probably eat much more food during than they do. The Fantasy Zone Channel is here to stay as the producer expects it to come back again next year. It evolves on a daily basis, but the bottom line is that people crave instant fantasy football information and the Fantasy Zone Channel is giving it to them.