NFL Needs Even the Insane Fantasy Football Owners

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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Torrey Smith needs to take a page from teammate Justin Tucker. The Baltimore Ravens wide receiver lashed out on Twitter at fantasy football owners unhappy with his relatively quiet performance in Monday night's 18-16 win over the Detroit Lions.

Smith was reacting to the harsh comments now commonplace on Twitter after disappointing fantasy performances. He caught four passes for 69 yards and no touchdowns in Week 15, a crucial game for the defending Super Bowl champions, who have a tenuous hold on the AFC's final wild-card slot, as well as for fantasy owners competing in their leagues' semifinals.

"I hate y'all fantasy folks who are tweeting me about your fake team...y'all make me sick...Ravens win that's all that matters to me," Smith posted early Tuesday morning, reiterating the sentiment many players have toward fantasy owners who tend to take their teams much too seriously. Earlier this season, his Ravens teammate Ray Rice reacted similarly to trolling owners on Twitter.

To be fair, players on social media often endure incredibly violent language from disgruntled owners, especially on those occasions when the real football team actually won. The tweets range from the incredibly insensitive -- analyzing the impact of an attack on Adrian Peterson's 2-year-old son on his fantasy value -- to the downright sinister, such as death threats to Brandon Jacobs. (Side note: If you drafted the New York Giants running back, you probably deserve to lose your league.)

Smith isn't wrong in defending himself against virulent attacks by fantasy owners. He is wrong, however, for dismissing fantasy football "because it takes away the real value of the game." On the contrary, the fantasy football industry might actually be bigger than the NFL itself, built on the backs of the fervent owners who spend billions to play their "fake" game. According to Forbes' Brian Goff, citing the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, an estimated 32 million Americans spend $467 each on all fantasy sports. That's a total of $15 billion, $11 billion of which is spent on fantasy football. When accounting for the indirect value of fantasy, such as ad revenue from hosting sites and time spent managing teams online, Goff estimates the combined value of fantasy football to be between $40 billion and $70 billion. Given that the NFL's revenue was about $9.5 billion in 2012, with Commissioner Roger Goodell setting the goal of $25 billion generated by 2027, as Goff puts it, "The 'derivative' market has grown larger than the foundational market."

There's also secondary value in fantasy football's ability to grow the NFL's brand and open up markets even the sports world's most popular league has yet to tap. According to the FSTA, roughly 20 percent of fantasy owners are women, a demographic the NFL has recently pushed to capture. The FSTA postulates that fantasy sports are used by women as an inroad to becoming fans, an educational tool that teaches them jargon and statistics. I take issue with that sweeping characterization of all female fans, but the point stands for new football watchers, regardless of gender. Fantasy sports also help rookies and unheralded players become instant stars from one breakout performance, and leads many fans to root for players who don't play on their hometown teams. Fantasy thus contributes greatly to these athletes' marketability: Five NFL quarterbacks in the top-10 jerseys sold last season were also top-10 fantasy players by the end of 2012-13.

All that makes Justin Tucker look incredibly savvy. After the Ravens kicker drilled six field goals in Monday's victory, including the 61-yard game-winner, he acknowledged the importance of his fantasy owners.

"I'm glad I could come through, of course, for my reality team as well as for my fantasy owners,"
he said. "Thank you for picking me up, it means a lot to me. And hopefully I can continue to contribute to the successes of your respective teams."

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

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Kavitha A Davidson at