Behind the Fantasy

June 20, 2004

Staff writer Chris Ballard first got the idea to do a story on
fantasy sports (page 80) last January while camping with and
interviewing Duke students waiting in line for tickets to a Blue
Devils basketball game. "There I was, in the middle of the
Cameron Crazies, and all that these kids wanted to talk about was
their NBA fantasy teams," says Ballard, who usually covers pro
basketball for SI. "I felt like a doctor at a cocktail party, and
it got me to thinking about how pervasive fantasy games have
become."

So over four months Ballard immersed himself in the fantasy
culture, interviewing the game's founding fathers, analyzing the
businesses it has spawned and flying to Las Vegas for an industry
trade conference. "I've always been interested in the peripheries
of mainstream sports," says Ballard, who wrote a book about
pickup basketball before joining SI in 2000. "With fantasy, I
thought I'd be documenting a little subculture but ended up
realizing it's a big business."

Ballard didn't have to venture too far outside his office to pick
up the trail of the game's history. One of the participants in
the original Rotisserie league, Rob Fleder, is now an executive
editor at SI, and Dan Okrent, the inventor of the game--the
Beloved Founding Father, as he's known in some Rotisserie
circles--spent 13 years at SI's parent company, Time Inc., and
edited SI for three months in 1995. "Obviously, no one at that
first draft had any idea how big Rotisserie would ultimately
become," says Fleder, "but the insidious genius of the game
quickly became apparent."

Credit Fleder with helping spread it. After his first year in the
original Rotisserie league, Fleder moved to Chicago to take a job
at Playboy. Like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed, he spread the
game among his friends in the Windy City and founded what is
believed to be the second league. Nowadays he participates in
just one league and beholds in amazement fantasy leagues' growth,
particularly on Internet sites, like SI.com. "Its power on the
Web may be surpassed only by that of porn."

Responding to the surge in popularity of fantasy sports, SI.com
now offers 10 fantasy games, including six varieties in football.
Moreover, SI.com recently signed an agreement with one of the
most respected statistical services in the business, Stats Inc.,
which will supply the numbers for all of the website's fantasy
leagues. "Now our fantasy games are the best and easiest to use
on the Web," says SI.com managing editor Paul Fichtenbaum, "and
we're adding as much fantasy content as we can."

B/W PHOTO: FRED CONRAD/THE NEW YORK TIMES (TOP) FOUNDERS' DAY Fleder (third from left) and Okrent (center) at the1980 draft. COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL J. LEBRECHT II/1DEUCE3 PHOTOGRAPHY Fleder COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO (BALLARD) Ballard

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)