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You Won't Believe How Much Americans Spend on Fantasy Football

Fantasy football is big business in the US, with high entrance fees and huge cash prizes. How does it work, and should you jump in?
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How are you planning to use your first pick in your keeper league draft this season? How do you plan on spending your winnings? Or maybe the better question is, who's bringing the beer, burgers and buffalo wings?

If none of the questions above made sense to you, it might be time to study up on your fantasy football vocabulary. Despite the fact that it's not a "real" sport, fantasy football is now big business in the United States.

One-Quarter of Americans Spending $4.6 Billion

According to numbers released in a study from American Express, 74.7 million Americans plan to take part in fantasy football this year, and they're expected to spend $4.6 billion while doing so.

For some perspective on those figures, consider this. According to Census.gov, the U.S. population in 2014 stood at just under 319 million. If 74.7 million Americans play fantasy football, that works out to nearly one in every four of your neighbors. As for the $4.6 billion they're expected to spend this year, that's roughly equivalent to the gross domestic product of the entire African country of Togo in 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund.

How it Works

So what's all the fuss about? For the uninitiated, playing fantasy football involves managing a team of football players, often based in the NFL (though college football is another option), throughout a season. "Owners" of all the teams gather at the beginning of the season and select players in a draft, much like the NFL does every April. Once the season begins, the owners select which players will "play" each week, meaning they are allowed to accumulate fantasy points for the team. Players earn points when they accomplish certain feats, like scoring touchdowns or picking up certain amounts of yardage.

In some fantasy leagues, two teams face off each week and the team with more points wins. The league keeps up with standings and crowns a champion at the end of the season. In others, the teams accrue points throughout the season and the standings reflect the totals at the end. In yet others, called keeper leagues, owners are allowed to hold onto certain players from one season to another.

It might sound complicated, but part of the appeal of fantasy football—besides the chance it gives regular people to manage a reasonable representation of a professional team—is that it's easy to learn, at least initially. But mastering the game can take years, along with dedication and plenty of money.

Fantasy Play, But Real Cash Expenses — And Prizes

According to the American Express study cited above, a majority of fantasy football players compete for money. On average, they will spend $107 on fantasy leagues, and even more on peripheral costs like beer, burgers and buffalo wings.

And as the $4.6 billion figure suggests, this is no niche market. Every major sports media website hosts its own fantasy football leagues, including the NFL itself, and payouts can be immense for the best players. As reported by Barstool Sports, DraftKings.com is offering a prize of $2 million for the winner of its Week 1 NFL $10M Millionaire Maker contest this season. That's a potential $2 million payout for one week of work, and the entry fee is only $20.

So are these people crazy for spending their hard-earned money on something like fantasy football? Or, with so much cash at stake for winners, should we be surprised that more people aren't involved? Either way, fantasy football has grown into a phenomenon that can't be ignored.

What are your experiences with fantasy football? Are you a fan, or does it all seem silly to you? Let us know in the comments.


Contributing Writer

Michael Cummings is a Huntsville native who has worked for various newspapers in North Alabama including the Huntsville Times and Decatur Daily. He writes about world soccer for Bleacher Report UK, and he has appeared as a guest on CNN International, Sirius/XM, CBS Radio, and NBC Radio.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Unless marked as a "Sponsored Deal," the opinions expressed here are those of the author and have not been reviewed or endorsed by the companies mentioned. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).
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