- Fantasy sports can be a great way to entertain yourself (and maybe make some money in the process)
- Here’s everything you need to know about getting in on the action
- Read more about fantasy sports here
Americans absolutely love their sports. In fact, 1 out of every 4 Americans watches 5+ hours of sports weekly.
So it’s only natural that these die-hard fans would want to get even more immersed in their favorite league instead of just watching as a bystander.
Enter fantasy sports.
What began as a casual, fun game played amongst friends has turned into a multi-billion dollar business that actually has a huge influence on the actual sports themselves. Celebrities, fans, and even professional athletes themselves now take part in fantasy sports betting to add another dimension to watching their favorite sports on TV.
(I wonder what it’s like having yourself on your own fantasy sports team…)
By now, most people in America have heard the term “fantasy sports.” But you can often divide people into two groups: the group that can’t stop talking about fantasy stats and trades and pickups — and the group that has absolutely no idea what they’re talking about (and nods along politely).
So for the uninitiated, we’ve created a complete guide to fantasy sports betting (so you don’t have to pretend like you know what’s going on around the watercooler).
Let’s dive in.
How Do Fantasy Sports Work?
So what is fantasy sports betting?
Fantasy sports work a bit differently than traditional sports betting. Instead of betting on the outcome or specific facet of a game, you pick a team of real players from a particular sport for a whole season. It’s a longer-term commitment with different kinds of strategies.
To put together your team, you’ll go through an online selection process (a draft) against other people. Once you’ve put together your team, those players’ real-life game statistics are tracked and compared to the other teams in your league.
This is usually done on an online platform or in person. Several popular websites and mobile apps are used to track these leagues. Nowadays, it’s incredibly easy to put together a league with all of your best friends, so you can finally put the argument to rest on who’d manage the best professional sports team.
If you don’t have friends that want to play fantasy sports, it’s easy to join public leagues that are hosted by websites against strangers.
Who Plays Fantasy Sports?
According to research, around 56 million people play fantasy sports in North America alone. Of those people, the demographics skew heavily male, with 81% of fantasy betters being men and 19% being women.
It’s also more popular among wealthier sports fans, with 67% being employed full-time and 47% of fantasy players making more than $75,000.
Now, $18 billion is being spent on fantasy sports annually. While it still isn’t as much as real sports betting ($140 billion annually) or lotteries ($70 billion), it’s growing quickly.
Which Sports are Most Popular for Fantasy?
When it comes to choosing which sport to get started in for your fantasy league, the most obvious choice is to play the sport that you and your friends enjoy the most.
But it is true that some sports are much more popular to play. Sometimes the real-life game lends itself to the fantasy world better.
Although fantasy sports were invented in the 1950s around golf and baseball, the most popular sport by far is fantasy football. Amongst the estimated number of fantasy sports players in the US last year, a whopping 78% of them played fantasy football.
Here’s a list of the most popular sports:
- 78% play fantasy football
- 39% play fantasy baseball
- 19% play fantasy basketball
- 18% play fantasy hockey
- 14% play fantasy soccer
- 13% play fantasy golf
- 11% play fantasy esports
It doesn’t stop there. Fans everywhere are beginning to get in on the action and have even started playing fantasy on reality TV shows like The Bachelor, Survivor, American Idol, and more.
How to Get Started With Fantasy Sports Betting
If you want to start playing fantasy sports, you don’t need to be an expert. In fact, you don’t even need to be a big fan! Fantasy sports are one of the best ways to learn about a sport.
Of course, the more knowledge about a sport that you have, the better you’ll probably perform.
There are hundreds of fantasy sports platforms that all have their own pros and cons. To create a league in fantasy football (as well as other “main sports”), there are the “big four” that are the most popular and best fantasy sports betting platforms:
- NFL Fantasy Football
All four of these platforms are easy to understand, accessible, and customizable.
When it comes to more “betting-focused” fantasy sports websites, FanDuel and DraftKings are two of the most popular platforms today.
Once you’ve chosen a platform that you want to play on, all you need to do is create an account, pick a sport, and choose a league. If you want to get started quickly and don’t have other friends you want to play with, just join a public league and you can dive right into the action without having to set up many other things.
Often times you can choose beginner leagues, friend leagues, expert leagues, or any other number of leagues that have different rules, wagers, and difficulties.
It will let you know when your draft is (nowadays you can join one instantly). Depending on the sport and league, you’ll typically go through a snake draft to pick players for your team.
After that, you’re ready to start playing other teams! Your team will perform according to how your players play in real life.
What are the Rules and What Can You Win?
One of the best parts of fantasy sports is that you and your league make the rules. The leader of the league (the commissioner) and go into the settings and tweak the points and rules in any way that you like.
Of course, this is a more advanced strategy and may take a few years of fantasy experience to implement.
This goes for the winners (and losers) as well. Most leagues play with a cash buy-in pool that everyone contributes to at the beginning of the season before the teams are drafted.
Some leagues have a tiered reward system that awards cash prizes to the top players at the end of the season. For example:
- 1st Place – $500
- 2nd Place – $250
- 3rd Place – $100
Other leagues may just choose to do a winner-takes-all structure. Still, other leagues will use reward structures that reward small amounts of cash weekly to teams that complete mini-objectives throughout the season. That’s the beauty of it — it’s up to you how you can win money (and spend it).
Many leagues will also play for non-cash prizes. These include things like trophies, rings, or belts.
Another fun way to add a little bit of incentive is to have a “last-place punishment” for the loser of the league. Get creative here — embarrassing tattoos, toilet bowl trophies, and streaking naked in public are all in the realm of possibility.
Are Fantasy Sports Legal?
Fantasy sports are not considered gambling. The reason is it is a skill-based game rather than money being exchanged purely on chance.
With that said, fantasy sports betting has still grown exponentially since the Supreme Court of the US lifted the federal ban on sports betting in 2018. This huge case allowed Americans to start betting billions of dollars per month on sports.
Before then, the only states in the US that allowed legal sports betting were Nevada, New Jersey, and Delaware. Now, over 30 states allow some form of sports betting and still more states join every year.
Fantasy sports don’t fall under this category, though. It was always legal. It was a controversial topic that was argued about in the years leading up to the change in law, as many people considered fantasy sports betting and sports betting to be the same thing.
There are a couple of reasons for this. For one, fantasy sports is a competition between players, while sports betting is typically between a player and a bookmaker. Bookmakers typically have much better resources of data and technology to profit off of a sports bettor.
Also, fantasy sports is seen as a game of skill and analysis rather than pure chance.
For example, just about anyone can make a bet on a game and win money through luck. But in a fantasy sport, you’re not likely to win if you don’t set your lineup every week, research news in the sport, and strategize to beat your opponents.
How Big a Business is Fantasy Sports?
It’s big, and it’s only getting bigger. The fantasy sports market size was valued at $18.6 billion in 2019 and is expected to reach $48.6 billion by 2027.
Because of its growing popularity, many big brands are even participating in fantasy leagues to promote their products. For example, Unilever launched a Dove Men+Care fantasy football hub that provides fantasy football advice from ESPN experts. Hilton launched a free-entry fantasy racing contest for club members.
What Are Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS)?
The fastest-growing segment of fantasy sports is daily fantasy sports. Providers like DraftKings and FanDuel are the most popular platforms for DFS.
Daily Fantasy Sports takes the most exciting elements of a season-long fantasy sport and condenses it into a shorter format. You can join leagues that are as short as a week or even a day. Many people prefer this to season-long fantasy formats because it has much less commitment, much more betting, and you can experience high adrenaline every day.
Let’s take a look at how DFS works.
In DFS, instead of being in a league of 6-20 other teams, you’re usually pitted against a huge pool of participants in the hundreds or thousands.
They typically use an open format where you can select any player you want, even if other teams have already selected that same player, as opposed to that player being “off the board” once they are drafted in normal leagues.
This works through a salary cap system. Depending on the DFS league you join, you’ll get a virtual wallet filled with money (your salary cap), then you’ll choose players to fill out your team that each has their own “cost” to play.
Obviously, the more historically better players will cost a lot more to your salary cap than players who don’t typically play as well.
You can pick anyone up for your team as long as you stay under the salary cap limit.
Throughout the day, you’ll score points for your team depending on how well your players play. Although all leagues are different, the rules should be clearly laid out to you. This will change your strategy on how you draft your team.
For example, in football — many leagues will reward the quarterback with more points than other positions. This means that you’ll want to spend more of your salary cap on a great quarterback while spending less on another position like a tight end.
Remember, this is just your virtual salary cap. You’re not actually spending more money than the buy-in you used to start playing in the league.
Here’s an example of how DraftKings sets up their quarterback scoring:
- Passing TD = +4
- Passing Yards = +.04 points per yard
- 300+ Yard Passing Game = +3 Points
- Interception = -1 Point
- Rushing TD = +6 Points
Depending on how your quarterback plays, his point total will be added to your team’s total. Have a big week (or day) and you can win that big prize!
Frequently Asked Questions
Getting started in fantasy sports can feel like jumping into an ocean of information on a stormy night, but never fear. You’ll learn the intricacies of fantasy sports as you play. It’s definitely not something you need to know everything about from the get-go.
(In fact, there are probably people who have been playing for decades that don’t understand everything about fantasy sports.)
With that said, let’s dive into some common frequently asked questions for beginners.
Should I Play in a Redraft League or a Dynasty League?
There isn’t a right or wrong league to start out in, but redraft leagues are more popular for beginners.
A redraft league is where you choose a completely new team at the start of every season, while a dynasty league has managers of teams choose certain players (or their entire team) to stay the same season to season.
As you can imagine, dynasty leagues are a big commitment and have a much deeper strategy than redraft leagues. They’re usually more popular with advanced players.
How Do I Find a League?
Most people start out playing a fantasy sport with friends, family, or co-workers. There are several resources online, like Reddit, Facebook groups, or other online forums where you can find leagues to join.
Most fantasy platforms also have public leagues that you can join instantly and start playing with strangers.
Want to make your own rules? You can make your own league as well and choose the people you want to invite.
What Do I Need to Know About My League?
It’s important to get to know the scoring settings for your league. Although most leagues go by default settings, many commissioners will change the rules according to what they like.
For example, a popular “changed setting” in fantasy football is PPR (points per reception).
It’s also important to know the size of your league, the roster positions available for your team, and what kind of draft is happening.
How Do I Get Ready For My Draft?
One of the best tools you can use to get ready for your draft is a mock draft. This is a tool that allows you to join fake drafts with random people. Many people use this to plan their drafting strategy by seeing what players other people will take at certain positions.
When you’re new to fantasy drafts though, mock drafts are important because they allow you to understand how to use the website or app. Once you get into the draft room, things go FAST. If you don’t know how to use the platform, you may end up getting bad picks because you weren’t ready for how the platform worked.
After that, there are several articles, influencers, and YouTube channels that provide expert advice on how to draft for your league.
Who Should I Draft?
There’s no one set strategy for drafting. If there was, the same people would win every year. Although there is strategy involved, you never really know what’s going to happen throughout the year, what with trades, injuries, and any number of other incidents.
With that said, there are several expert websites like The Fantasy Footballers that provide in-depth articles and rankings to help you make the best-informed choices for your team.
Do I Need to Keep the Same Players All Year?
Of course not! That’s the best part about managing your own team — you have the freedom to do what you want with them. You can drop, add, and trade players throughout the season however you see fit.
This is a big part of the strategy that comes with winning a fantasy league.
How Do I Set My Lineup?
Make sure to check your league’s settings to see how you’re supposed to set your roster. It’s important that your lineup is filled out each week (or day, depending on the sport) so that you can score as many points as possible.
In football, players have bye weeks (weeks where the team doesn’t play) and get injured, so it’s important to pay attention to what’s happening in the league. If you don’t, you could leave players in your lineup that aren’t playing, resulting in zero points for the week.
Fantasy Sports Misconceptions
There are a couple of common misconceptions about fantasy sports that aren’t true about fantasy sports. These may turn some people off of fantasy, but we’ll let you know why they aren’t true.
1. Fantasy Sports Have to Be the Length of the Entire Season
Some people don’t want to commit to a whole season of managing a sports team. But the truth is, there are several league formats that allow shorter seasons. Also, the booming popularity of DFS leagues (see above) has made it so you can draft fantasy teams for a week or even just a day!
Perfect for draft-obsessive players.
2. You Have to Play Certain Rules
Depending on the sport, there are certain “traditional” rules that most leagues will gravitate to, but this doesn’t mean you and your league has to. You can change the rules of your league to however you like, including the scoring, rosters, schedules, and more.
Make your league exactly how you always fantasized it to be.
3. The Only Good Fantasy Sport is Football
Some people think football is the only popular fantasy sport for a reason — because the other ones aren’t good. This isn’t true at all! What makes the best fantasy sport is the sport you enjoy the most. Nowadays, there’s fantasy for just about everything, including but not limited to:
- Formula 1 Racing
- Mixed Martial Arts
- Horse Racing
As we mentioned earlier, they even have fantasy sports for reality TV now. No matter what you’re into, they might have some sort of fantasy betting for it.
Fantasy sports betting is one of the most fun and integrating ways to add another layer of complexity and enjoyment to your favorite sports.
Not only can you make some money and add some friendly competition to your life, but you can connect more deeply with pro athletes that you draft and understand the game you love more deeply.
Make sure to check out our other sports articles to stay up-to-date with what’s happening in your favorite sports league so you can start claiming cash and bragging rights in your fantasy sports league!