Fantasy Football Fans Pay to Play Against Major Leaguers

New York Mets All-Star third baseman David Wright’s pregame routine of batting practice, throwing and stretching will have an extra component tomorrow: a fantasy football draft.

Wright and reigning American League Most Valuable Player Miguel Cabrera are among 38 players from six Major League Baseball teams challenging fans in a charity event called “Big League Impact.” It was created last year by St. Louis Cardinals All-Star pitcher Adam Wainwright to provide fantasy football wrapped up in a baseball experience.

For the fee of $3,000 to $4,000 to run a fantasy team, entrants also get to rub shoulders with Wright and other participating Mets players during tomorrow’s drafts at Citi Field, where they also get a tour of the stadium, photos, VIP access to batting practice and tickets to the game. Money raised by the Mets’ league, known as “The Wright Stuff,” goes to the Ronald McDonald House charities in Manhattan and Long Island as well as the New York Mets Foundation.

“When Adam Wainwright called me a few weeks ago and asked if I would be interested in the idea, I jumped at it and got my teammates involved,” Wright, 31, said in an e-mail. “I’m passionate about fantasy football. I study hard and keep track of everything. Draft day should be fun and a great experience.”

Tired of the routine charity events, Wainwright started Big League Impact with his brother Trey, a lawyer in St. Louis, to combine the competitiveness of major leaguers with their passion for other sports -- in this case the National Football League -- while raising money.

Growing Event

Wainwright was among four Cardinals players to participate last year, when there were four 12-team leagues in St. Louis and $120,000 was raised for charity. Six MLB teams are participating this season, with players from the Mets, Tigers, Cincinnati Reds, San Francisco Giants and Atlanta Braves joining Wainwright and the Cardinals.

Max Scherzer of the Detroit Tigers was among the first players Wainwright contacted, and the AL’s reigning Cy Young Award winner enlisted eight other teammates, including Cabrera, for Detroit’s Aug. 15 drafts. Joining Wright in New York’s draft are Mets players Daniel Murphy, Dillon Gee, Jonathon Niese and Matt Harvey. The drafts are conducted at Citi Field before the players begin preparations for tomorrow night’s game against the Braves, which starts at 7:10 p.m.

“Every baseball clubhouse has a fantasy football league that’s just for high bragging rights, if you know what I mean,” said Trey Wainwright, who stepped away from his law practice for a few months to help run the event. “These guys compete on everything, that’s part of who they are and their fabric. What you’re seeing from these guys is a competition to have a bigger and better charity event.”

Former MVPs

The Braves and Cardinals also held drafts on Aug. 15 at their stadiums before home games. In addition to four of his teammates, Wainwright got a pair of former NFL MVP winners with St. Louis ties to compete: Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner.

“The experience was awesome and the event was first class,” Faulk, now an analyst for the NFL Network, said during an interview in New York. “The help Adam and the other guys around the baseball community are providing, it’s something that’s going to catch on rapidly.”

In St. Louis, money raised by the “Waino’s World” event will be distributed among three local charities: Operation Food Search, Habitat for Humanity and Cardinals Care.

Mo Bunnell, the founder and president of a business development and training company called the Bunnell Idea Group, was among the competitors in St. Louis. Bunnell, 46, used the league as a business opportunity, purchasing teams for four of his clients, including Morgan Stanley and Monsanto Co.

‘Kind of Stale’

“We entertain clients at a lot of things, but they tend to be one-time events, like charity dinners or golf outings, that stuff is kind of stale,” Bunnell said by phone.

Participants draft teams of NFL players and then compete against other owners in their league based on the statistics their roster generates. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association said more than 41.5 million people over age 12 played fantasy sports in North America last year. Of those participants, 77 percent were involved in fantasy football.

“What I loved about this -- besides standing next to Cardinals players for four hours -- is that I’m going to get two to a half-dozen client interactions every week for four or five months,” said Bunnell, who drafted Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers as his top quarterback. “I text somebody and say, ‘Your quarterback really screwed up on that one,’ or ‘Your running back had an unbelievable day.’ That long tale of interaction is really unique, as well as the fan experience.”

Participants in New York will vie with Wright and other Mets players for prizes including a trip to Vail, Colorado, or a golf outing at one of 32 TPC courses throughout the U.S. All league winners will compete in a national playoff for a trip to the 2015 MLB All-Star Game in Cincinnati.

“I can tell you one thing with fantasy football -- I play to win,” said Wright, who’s in his 11th season with the Mets. “So you better study hard if you are going against me.”

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