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Fantasy World These three play. Your neighbor plays. Your boss plays. Everybody plays. Once the secret preserve of stats geeks, FANTASY SPORTS are now a billion-dollar business

June 21, 2004
June 21, 2004

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June 21, 2004

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Fantasy World These three play. Your neighbor plays. Your boss plays. Everybody plays. Once the secret preserve of stats geeks, FANTASY SPORTS are now a billion-dollar business

It is 82° and sunny outside the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas,
the type of brilliant March afternoon that feels like a misplaced
slice of summer. Inside, however, it is 73°, and the night is, as
always, just beginning. On the casino floor lights flash, slot
machines emit their electronic gurgle and women in too-short
skirts serve beers to men who beg for an ace or a face card,
goddammit. Off to one side, a long hallway leads away to a maze
of enormous, high-ceilinged conference rooms, all sparsely
furnished, windowless and disorienting in their sameness. In one
of these rooms, under a hazy fluorescent sun, 19 men sit at a
U-shaped table and mull the value of New York Yankees first
baseman Jason Giambi.

This is an article from the June 21, 2004 issue Original Layout

These men are not scouts, nor are they general managers or even,
for that matter, Yankees fans. Rather, each has traveled to Vegas
and paid $1,250 for the opportunity to draft a team in the
National Fantasy Baseball Championship. As a result, they care
deeply about Giambi--or at least the statistics he
produces--because he could carry a fantasy team. He could also be
an injury-riddled bust. So the men consult their laptops and
frown deep frowns and grunt little grunts and generally look as
if they all ate the same bad fish for lunch. So intense is their
manner that one might mistake them for a secretive high-level
government committee, if, that is, members of such a committee
drank Bud Light and wore T-shirts that read MY KIDS THINK I'M AN
ATM.

Some of the men arrived a few days early in order to attend the
National Fantasy Trade Association's annual meeting, a two-day
affair that featured everything from seminars on legal and
technological issues to "expert" panels stocked with the Warren
Buffetts of the business, men like Brandon (the Gamer) Funston of
Yahoo and Eric Karabell of ESPN.com. Others came in expressly for
the draft or the accompanying auction, among them the rock singer
Meat Loaf, whose name is Michael Aday but who prefers to be
called Meat (a moniker that is printed in red letters on the back
of his baseball cap). So far, his National League-only team in
the auction game, the Bats Out of Hell--named for his
breakthrough 1977 album--includes Bobby Abreu, Luis Castillo and,
much to Meat's later chagrin, Mets shortstop Jose Reyes, who will
start the season on the disabled list.

Meat Loaf is a fantasy addict. He has been playing since the '80s
and once participated in 56 football leagues in a single season.
For this draft he drove in the night before from Los Angeles, not
long after arriving on a plane from New Zealand, where he had
been on tour. "I'm amazed I made it," he says during a break in
the auction. "I'm pretty crispy right now. But I was determined
not to miss this draft."

Meat Loaf is not alone in his devotion. In the ranks of the
famous, team owners also include star USA Softball pitcher Jennie
Finch, Boston Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling, former Miami
Dolphins and current CBS analyst Dan Marino, R.E.M. bassist Mike
Mills, and actors Vince Vaughn and Michael J. Fox (page 86). Once
considered the province of Bill James-worshipping stat geeks,
fantasy sports have become big, big business. More than 15
million people play, and fantasy has grown into a billion-dollar
industry (opposite). Perhaps the only business more ready-made
for the Internet is pornography. Though they all had their
genesis in a game started by a group of New York literary types
25 years ago, fantasy sports have evolved--some might say
metastasized--into a nationwide obsession. There is fantasy
NASCAR and fantasy bass fishing (page 87), fantasy golf and
fantasy cricket and even, absurdly, fantasy professional
wrestling. Fantasy football, the most popular game, threatens to
co-opt coverage of the NFL, as evidenced by the fact that there
are now three times as many fantasy football preview magazines as
actual football preview magazines.

As a result many fans now have a stronger allegiance to
individual players than to teams, unless, of course, it is
allegiance to their fantasy teams. For those teams they will
spend hours checking box scores and scanning the waiver wire, not
to mention ignoring less-pressing concerns such as, say, their
jobs. For those who don't play but have to endure the obsessive
yammering of those who do--the Rotisserie widows and friends who
have no vested interest in who starts at tight end for the
Colts--it can seem like the tech boom of the late '90s all over
again, when nothing was quite as boring as hearing about someone
else's portfolio.

Eventually, though, the tech boom went away; fantasy sports, like
video games, are here to stay.

To understand the phenomenon of fantasy sports, one must first
understand their origin, and for that one must talk to Dan
Okrent, the founding father of Rotisserie baseball. Okrent is
built like a catcher, short-legged and low to the ground. He has
thick gray hair, a thatch of which is constantly on the verge of
falling into his eyes, and a habit of sitting cross-legged as he
talks. He is 56 years old and exceedingly accomplished in his
field, having written for and edited at several of the world's
most prominent magazines (including SI) and written four books.
In his apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan there is a
framed drawing of him and his wife by cartoonist Jules Feiffer
titled "Dance to Okrents." He is currently the first public
editor of The New York Times.

Despite his resume Okrent is still known to many as the Guy Who
Invented Rotisserie Baseball. He estimates that he has been
interviewed on the subject more than 200 times in the past 25
years and in 2000 was one of the first two inductees (along with
fellow Rotisserie pioneer Glenn Waggoner) into the Fantasy Sports
Hall of Fame. Though Okrent holds out hope that his new job at
the Times may alter his legacy--"Some people say that's why I
took this job, so it would change my epitaph," he says, only half
joking--he is of two minds about his creation. "I feel the way J.
Robert Oppenheimer felt after having invented the atomic bomb: If
I'd only known this plague that I've visited upon the world...,"
he says with a laugh. "Though on one level I'm proud, certainly,
to have created something that millions of people want to do.
It's a contribution of sorts."

It was while flying from Hartford to Austin in the fall of 1979
that Okrent first came up with the idea. At the time he was
working as a consultant for Texas Monthly magazine, a job for
which he commuted every four weeks from his home in Worthington,
Mass. His passion, however, was baseball. Before sabermetrics,
Theo Epstein and the box-score orgy that is the USA Today sports
section, Okrent was crunching numbers, editing a tome called the
Ultimate Baseball Book and espousing the merits of an obscure
Kansas writer named Bill James (who at the time self-published a
mimeographed pamphlet on baseball tendencies). Since taking a
class at Michigan a decade earlier with a professor named Bob
Sklar--who had played a crude prototype of Rotisserie
ball--Okrent had also been puzzling over how to create a game
that realistically mimicked a baseball season.

Thousands of feet up he had a moment of inspiration and, as he
now jokes, "carved the rules into the stone tablets." After some
tweaking, they were (and still are) as follows. Teams each
receive a budget of $260 to draft 23 players from either the
American or National League, filling slots by position: nine
pitchers, five outfielders, one shortstop, etc. Players are
auctioned off to the highest bidder (a nod to the then fledgling
age of free agency), and each team's performance is based on the
cumulative stats of its players in eight categories: batting
average, home runs, RBIs, stolen bases, wins, ERA, saves and
WHIP, the ratio of walks and hits to innings pitched (then a
virtually unheard-of statistic that now, thanks to Rotisserie,
has wide currency).

Eager to test his creation, Okrent introduced it to his
compatriots in the Phillies Appreciation Society, an informal
crew who met monthly at New York City's La Rotisserie Francaise,
a long-since-shuttered East Side restaurant (and the genesis of
the game's tag). Okrent picked up a few converts and recruited
the rest from among his extended circle of friends. On the first
Sunday after Opening Day of the '80 season, the 11 owners of the
10 teams gathered at the home of Corlies Smith for the first
Rotisserie draft (which included players from only the National
League). Besides Okrent (owner of the Okrent Fenokees), the
assemblage included a veritable Who's Who of the publishing
world: Smith (owner of the Smith Coronas), a book editor for
Viking Press; Bruce McCall, a writer-illustrator and contributor
to The New Yorker (his McCall Collects lasted but one season);
Sklar (owner of the Sklar Gazers), now a professor of cinema
studies at NYU; screenwriter, novelist and editor Peter Gethers
and co-owner Waggoner, a Columbia administrator who, thanks to
his Rotisserie involvement, went on to become an editor at ESPN
the Magazine (together, they formed the Getherswag Goners);
Valerie Salembier (of the Flambes), now publisher of Harper's
Bazaar; Michael Pollet (G.M. of the Pollet Burros), a lawyer who
has argued before the Supreme Court; author and then Esquire
editor Lee Eisenberg (owner of the Eisenberg Furriers); Tom
Guinzburg (owner of the Guinzburg Burghers), then president of
Viking Press; and Rob Fleder (mastermind behind the Fleder Mice),
now an executive editor at SI. By all accounts it was a heady
time. "When I first saw the rules, it was like seeing the Rosetta
stone translated for the first time," says Waggoner. "It was"--he
pauses--"the perfect game."

To be sure, the original owners (joined the next year by then SI
baseball writer Steve Wulf, owner of the Wulfgang) took the game
very seriously--they went on field trips to spring training every
March to scout players, and Okrent estimates he burned up more
than $1,000 a year on phone, travel and other Rotisserie
expenses--but they also approached the whole thing with what
Waggoner calls "a sense of whimsy." At the end of the season the
winner got a ceremonial Yoo-Hoo shower (said to be good for the
hair), and the 11 annual editions of Rotisserie League Baseball
Book, written by committee, were as funny as they were
informative. As Wulf wrote of those early days in a 1984 piece in
SI, "The Rotisserie League is silly, and we know that. We also
know that it has caused great changes in the lives of each and
every one of us, mostly for the better. We play for money, of
course, but we also play for friendship, competition, life,
liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Because of the group's media connections, Rotisserie spread at
the speed of newsprint. In 1980 Fred Ferretti of The New York
Times wrote about the league, which in turn spurred innumerable
beat writers to start their own leagues, each of which inevitably
inspired a column during the dog days of August. By '83 even
major leaguers were aware of the fantasy game. "I remember I was
behind the batting cage at Shea Stadium, and this shadow came
over me," says Wulf, now an executive editor of ESPN the
Magazine. "It was Dale Murphy, and he said, 'How's your
Rotisserie team doing?' He told me he'd read the book, and he
really liked the concept. That's when I knew this thing was
really getting big."

By the late 1980s the game had surpassed its cult status. In '89
The Sporting News estimated that nearly 500,000 people played.
Mario Cuomo was in a league, Bryant Gumbel played, the
Philadelphia Phillies' front office took the game nearly as
seriously as their actual jobs, and Red Sox outfielder Dwight
Evans became a fantasy player and reportedly traded himself for
pitching help late in the season. So many Roto freaks were
calling teams to get injury reports that they were overwhelming
p.r. staffs. In an attempt to realize some profits from their
creation, Okrent and the other founders trademarked the name
Rotisserie and made halfhearted efforts at running a stats
service. None of it came to much. "The brilliant thing about the
game is that the rules are so simple that all you need are the
rules," says Okrent. "That's also why we never figured out a way
to make money off the thing."

Others eventually would. By the early '90s Rotisserie baseball
led to Rotisserie football and basketball, which spawned a
multitude of other fantasy sports. But the number of leagues and
players was limited by the man-hours required; stats had to be
calculated by hand or laboriously entered into Excel
spreadsheets. The late '90s Internet boom changed the game: Now
all a player had to do was wake up and check his team's stats
online, after which he could shoot off a couple of ludicrous
trade proposals by e-mail. "It used to be thought of as
[something for] just geeks and hard-core fans," says Greg
Ambrosius, the president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association
(FSTA). "But this isn't a small closet hobby anymore. This
sumbitch is a big, big industry, and it's all due to the
Internet."

Were it not for the explosion of fantasy on the Web, a guy like
Clark Olson would not be asked his opinion regarding Alfonso
Soriano's tendency to swing at bad pitches. And he certainly
wouldn't have been in Vegas in March wearing a matching hat and
T-shirt embossed with 2003 ESPN FANTASY BASEBALL LEAGUE CHAMPION
and toting a Fujitsu Stylistic ST5000D tablet PC while inspiring
fear and reverence, expressed in whispered tones. No, Olson would
be renowned primarily--and rightly--for his work on the Mars
Rover. First at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena,
Calif., and now as an assistant professor of computer and
software systems at the University of Washington's Bothell
campus, Olson has worked with computer vision, mobile robot
navigation and terrain mapping techniques to make the Rover more
effective. But no one cared about that in Vegas.

Olson is part of the new generation of fantasy player.
Thirty-five years old, he looks a bit like Leonardo DiCaprio,
were DiCaprio to play the role of a bookish rocket scientist.
Olson began playing fantasy sports 18 years ago as a student at
the University of Washington and, after some early success,
started competing in the ESPN.com Uber, a sort of fantasy
pentathlon in which players accumulate points based on multiple
entries from 33 games offered. The prizes include an
expenses-paid trip to the ESPY Awards. Out of hundreds of
thousands of players, Olson finished third in 2002 and was second
last year. To do so, he says, he competed in 12 baseball leagues,
one hockey league, six basketball leagues and about 10 football
leagues, at a cost (reduced by discounts and packages) of $400.

Do the math, and it's easy to understand why so many companies
are suddenly so smitten with all those fantasy geeks. Players
like Olson and Meat Loaf--himself a top-200-ranked Uberplayer on
ESPN.com--spend hours each week scrutinizing websites to track
their multiple teams and, not so incidentally, have plenty of
disposable income.

The new fantasy economy was on full display at the trade
association conference. Given the reputation of Roto players, one
expected a brown-bag-lunch crowd--a bunch of friendly (if nerdy)
guys who, had they been toting comics rather than preseason
fantasy guides, could have been mistaken for the X-Men
Appreciation Society. But while there was a whiff of dorkiness
about the whole affair, it was overwhelmed by the scent of
enterprise. Website managers in sport coats passed out business
cards with the eagerness of Times Square hawkers offering fliers.
Thirtysomething men in Dockers spoke of "cross-media synergy" and
the promise of "dashboard technology" (wherein a fantasy owner's
Web portal features warning lights that turn red if, say, Jim
Edmonds's average dips below .250). In all, 150 people paid $300
apiece to attend the conference, and representatives from major
spenders of advertising dollars, such as Comcast, were among
them.

The crowd could be delineated neatly into a) the many who were
desperately trying to crack the fantasy market, a segment that
included (somewhat surprisingly) USA Today and SI.com (which
recently upgraded its fantasy engine but still trails the
leaders); and b) the few from well-established sites, namely the
big three of SportsLine.com, ESPN.com and Yahoo. Of that trio,
SportsLine provides the most telling case study.

In 1996 SportsLine employed three people to run its fantasy
operation; today 50 contribute to the site's fantasy portion,
including an editorial staff of six (meaning six people are paid
to ruminate upon whom you should pick up off the waiver wire). Of
the company's $57.6 million in revenue in 2003, $15.9 million, or
28%, came from fantasy sports, a 34% increase over '02.
SportsLine's NFL-partnered fantasy football attracted 1.3 million
paid users last fall, according to a study done by
Nielsen/NetRatings; that was more than the next four sites
combined. As for what's driving the sports site's traffic,
consider: Of the 2 million people who visited during the month of
October, 1.32 million were fantasy players (who then stayed an
average of one hour and 42 minutes, or long enough to see an
awful lot of banner ads). Says Scott Engel, SportsLine's senior
producer of fantasy sports, "I've seen our game go from having a
minor cult following to being a major part of our success."

For its part Yahoo has built a reputation on its free games--more
than a million people are playing free fantasy baseball this
year--and recently upgraded its editorial staff by hiring Brandon
Funston away from ESPN.com. Not that such a move will really hurt
ESPN. The company doesn't disclose its revenue numbers, but
ESPN.com senior vice president of business operations and
programming John Kosner estimates that fantasy accounts for 15%
to 20% of the site's traffic, and he speaks in glowing terms of
its future, touting the potential of "easy fantasy," week-to-week
games that appeal to casual fans. ESPN's big advantage, of
course, is synergy. Eric Karabell, a former Washington Post
writer who is now the network's fantasy expert, appears regularly
on ESPN News, has a column in ESPN the Magazine and a weekly
hourlong radio show online. His televised commentary drives
people to the games on the website, and those games drive people
to ESPN to watch "their" players perform. It is a neat little
cycle of consumption.

The scary part is, this is just the beginning. Fantasy cricket is
huge in India; fantasy football (that is, soccer) has caught on
in England, and fantasy thoroughbred racing is the rage in Hong
Kong. The fastest-growing fantasy sport is NASCAR. (In what
business isn't NASCAR the fastest-growing segment?)

Already, major consumer companies are trying to capitalize on
fantasy sports. Best Buy, the home electronics chain, will unveil
a fall marketing campaign centered on its own branded fantasy
football game (to be powered by fanball.com and for which Best
Buy will distribute more than $20,000 a week in prizes). The
company's research found, not surprisingly, that men who bought
high-definition TVs also played fantasy football. EA Sports, the
video game maker that produces the Madden NFL series, is close to
signing a deal with the NFL Players Association that includes a
"fantasy license" under which future versions of Madden will
potentially allow users to play with teams made up of their
fantasy rosters. (The idea is as meta as they come: to play a
virtual game based on a virtual game based on an actual game.)
Given the trend, it's not all that unrealistic to imagine that 10
years from now a league--say, something like Arena football or a
circuit based on a previously obscure sport--will be founded by a
partnership between a multinational company such as McDonald's
and a fantasy provider. McFantasy Frisbee: I'm Lovin' It.

The original games have now been around long enough that today's
pro athletes grew up playing them. While with the Phillies, Curt
Schilling started a football league and rented out a hotel suite
for a catered draft that was announced by Phillies play-by-play
man Harry Kalas. Red Sox pitcher Derek Lowe, who plays in a
NASCAR league (and used to be in a football league), says, "I can
remember in 2001, when I was stinking as a reliever, people were
yelling, 'You're killing me on my fantasy team!' I didn't
understand it back then because I wasn't involved in this stuff
yet, but now I do. I know I get pissed off when a guy on my
football team is struggling or a NASCAR guy blows an engine."
There's a French connection in a fantasy NBA league that includes
Atlanta Hawks rookie reserve guard-forward Boris Diaw, San
Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker and Gonzaga forward Ronny
Turiaf (who played together on France's national team). Says
Diaw, who averaged 4.5 points this season, "I chose to take
myself--and I don't think it was a good choice."

No professional player has been accused of conflict of interest
because of involvement in a fantasy league based on his own
sport, and there are no rules about fantasy participation. The
closest thing to a fantasy arrest came in 1991, when a
firefighter in Florida was fired and charged with misdemeanor
gambling for running a baseball league that had a $5,000 prize.
(The charges were later dropped.) "The [main] legal issue is
whether the games fall under lottery laws--games of chance--or
whether they're games of skill, which are [not subject to
regulation in most states]," says William Heberer, a lawyer with
the New York City firm of Manatt, Phelps and Phillips who
specializes in advising clients on sports gambling issues. "So
far, they've always been considered games of skill, and there
hasn't really been a challenge to that at all."

All this is fine--surely we will sleep better knowing that every
Flyers fan with a cable modem can legally play in as many fantasy
hockey leagues as he wants--but it doesn't address the larger
question of whether fantasy sports are a good thing. It is a
simple question with a complicated answer.

Fantasy sports might go against the nature of the true fan--that
is, one who roots for a real-life team--but one could argue that
they are merely a reflection of real sports in the age of free
agency. When neither players nor owners feel any loyalty other
than to their bank accounts, why should fans be any different?
Maybe a fantasy team is the last vestige of control fans have,
keeping them connected to a game in which a real team's players
and uniforms change every season. Playing a fantasy game
undeniably makes a fan more knowledgeable; pre-Rotisserie, there
was little reason for anyone outside of Milwaukee or Atlanta to
care who batted sixth for the Brewers or to track the assists of
the Hawks' backup point guard (and, in the case of Atlanta, one
could argue that even those in the city had no reason to care).
Rotisserie players also gain an appreciation for the inner
workings of the sport; after all, Okrent formulated his seminal
eight categories by using the Baseball Encyclopedia and studying
10 years of NL East stats to see which indicators best correlated
to winning percentage. (That's why stolen bases were included
instead of on-base percentage.)

Then there is the camaraderie. Fantasy leagues are similar to
pickup basketball games; they bring people together. In fact, one
could even think of all those hours spent hunched over box scores
as an investment in brotherhood. In one long-running New York
City fantasy basketball league, there is a father-and-two-sons
team that has used the game as a means to repair a relationship
strained by the father's divorce. In the same league another
player routinely flies in from Cleveland just for the draft,
allowing him to see old friends.

In other respects, time "invested" in fantasy leagues is
irretrievably wasted. Imagine what could be accomplished during
the hours spent on fantasy--you could learn a new language, train
for and run a marathon or, at the very least, significantly
increase your bowling average. There are also the vacations that
suddenly become dependent on Internet access (gotta change those
starting pitchers!); the frantic long-distance phone calls asking
for injury reports; the poor souls the fantasy player has
afflicted with updates on his team (a habit that Okrent compares
with the ritual display of baby pictures by new parents: "A
fantasy team is something that's deeply your own," he says. "One
sentence about it is too much"); and the friendships ruined over
trade disputes that progress from the jocular Hey, that deal
smells fishy to Don't be surprised if someone firebombs your car.

What does this say about the millions of men who play (and with
93% of participants being male, fantasy is an overwhelmingly
masculine pursuit)? That's what Don Levy is trying to figure out.
A doctoral student in sociology at Connecticut, Levy studies
masculinity and male relationships; his previous work includes
The Friendships of White Middle-Class Men: A Dialectic of
Gendering. In fantasy sports he saw a microcosm of male
relationships, and so last November he began a one-year study of
men who play. He's interested in how they find meaning in
fantasy, what it says about camaraderie and what can be deduced
from the communities that spring up. "The friends that these men
meet in these leagues might be some of their best friends, even
though they only meet once a year," says Levy. "They've gone
through divorces, had kids--some of them have been doing this for
12, 15 years. And they end up turning to each other for support,
which is interesting." Levy has also seen the other side of the
phenomenon. "Some of these guys have been in leagues for six
years with each other and have no idea if another player is
married or not," he says.

For Steve Wulf, fantasy has come too close to supplanting
reality. Recently he decided to go Roto cold turkey. For him, the
game used to be about fun, but then, he says, "the drafts got
more serious, to the point where it was like a bunch of
accountants, and if you cracked a joke, you were upsetting the
karma." Okrent has also dialed it back. In 1995 he quit
Rotisserie ball for five years and followed the continued rise of
fantasy sports from afar. (He takes particular pride that
Rotisserie has its own definition in the newest edition of the
Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary.) Two years ago, however,
he rejoined what he calls a "slo-pitch" or "AARP" league, where
trades are allowed during only one week of the season.

Asked how his team fared, Okrent grimaces. "I was wire to wire in
first place every day from Opening Day to Sept. 7 and then
collapsed and finished fourth," he says. "I was"--he catches
himself and emits a quick laugh--"I could tell you why, but then
I'd be talking about my Rotisserie team, and it's not
interesting." The father of fantasy sports shakes his head and
smiles. "Really, it's not interesting."

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER GREGOIRE JENNIE FINCH SOFTBALL ACE OWNER FOURTH AND FINCHESCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER GREGOIRE DAN MARINO CBS ANALYST OWNER GRIDIRON GURUSCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER GREGOIRE MICHAEL J. FOX ACTOR OWNER CENTRAL PARK RATSCOLOR PHOTO: THOM LANG/CORBISCOLOR PHOTO: PAUL HURSCHMANN/APCOLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY PETER GREGOIRE ACTING OUT Fox downplays his fantasy acumen, but he did heist Belle for El Duque.COLOR PHOTO: JOE SONGER/THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS/AP REEL FANTASY The Bassmaster game lets players cast their lot with the pros.

FANTASTIC FIGURES

Determining the size of the ever-growing fantasy sports
industry--the Gross Rotisserie Product--is not an exact science.
How, for example, to account for the phone bills inflated by
"trade talk" and the money spent tracking players using NFL
Sunday Ticket and at sports bars, to say nothing of ratings
boosts for the likes of NFL pregame shows and Baseball Tonight?
Likewise, it's impossible to quantify the added interest in a
sport from people following fantasy teams, or the opportunity
cost of "work" hours whiled away on roster changes. (At an hour a
week, 15 million players multiplied by, say, $20 an hour would
equal $300 million.) We can, however, provide an estimate of the
direct economic impact of fantasy sports in the U.S. for
2004. --C.B.

League entry fees (15.2 million users X $95 average $1.44 billion
entry fee)
Advertising/branding deals $150 million
Gameplay Web services $50 million
Fantasy publications $5 million
Web tip/expert services $3 million

Total: $1.65 billion

SOURCES: User and average entry fee numbers are from the 2003
Fantasy Sports Trade Association survey conducted by the
University of Mississippi. Advertising/branding estimate from
sponsorship information and sources. Web services estimate is
from public numbers for Sportsline, as well as estimates from
Greg Ambrosius, president of the FSTA. Fantasy publication
numbers are from Ambrosius and Krause
Publications.

ROTISSERIE MEAT: THE LOAF LINEUP

Rock musician and inveterate fantasy player Meat Loaf (right)
entered the draft game at the National Fantasy Baseball
Championships, which uses players from all big league clubs. (He
also entered the NL-only auction game with a team named Bats Out
of Hell, after his breakthrough 1977 album.) In the draft game
Meat is competing on two levels: first, in a 15-team league (in
which he drafted fourth) for a $5,000 first-place prize; second,
his is one of 195 teams going for a $100,000 grand prize. Below,
in drafting order, is his squad, the Leaderboard High and Mighty,
which at week's end was in 12th place in his 15-team league and
stood 160th in the race for the grand prize. For each player we
have given the relevant 2004 NFBC stats--for batters: average,
homers, RBIs, runs and stolen bases; for pitchers: wins, ERA,
strikeouts, walks and hits per innings pitched (WHIP), and saves.
We have also provided a hindsight-is-20/20 drafting critique from
SI.com fantasy sports expert David
Sabino. --C.B.

LEADERBOARD HIGH AND MIGHTY

Player, Pos. STATS
SABINO'S SKINNY

1. Carlos Beltran, OF .266, 12 HRs, 43 RBIs, 42 R, 12 SB
Slumping. At least Meat won't lose him if Royals trade him.

2. Preston Wilson, OF .278, 0 HRs, 3 RBIs, 1 R, 0 SB
Hard luck. Out with a knee injury. Looked good on paper.

3. Billy Wagner, RP 1 W, 3.00 ERA, 26 K, 0.67 WHIP, 9 Sv
Too early in the draft to pick a closer. Go with starters first.

4. Josh Beckett, SP 4 W, 4.06 ERA, 70 K, 1.18 WHIP, 0 Sv
Was living up to his World Series clippings until blisters came.

5. Angel Berroa, SS .223, 4 HRs, 17 RBIs, 23 R, 1 SB
Sophomore slump. Meat probably liked his rookie numbers.

6. Scott Podsednik, OF .261, 8 HRs, 23 RBIs, 44 R, 27 SB
Steals leader should have gone earlier. Great pick this late.

7. Mark Teixeira, 1B .241, 9 HRs, 24 RBIs, 29 R, 3 SB
Middle of the order for Rangers, game's best-hitting lineup.

8. Jamie Moyer, SP 5 W, 3.80 ERA, 53 K, 1.22 WHIP, 0 Sv
After a bad spring, second starter is finally giving Meat value.

9. Jorge Julio, RP 1 W, 4.28 ERA, 19 K, 1.57 WHIP, 9 Sv
Where are the starters? Should be going after them first.

10. Placido Polanco, IF .260, 2 HRs, 7 RBIs, 17 R, 1 SB
Playing terribly and spent time on the DL. A bad pick.

11. Matt Clement, SP 7 W, 3.15 ERA, 90 K, 1.12 WHIP, 0 Sv
Could be the steal of the draft. Great pick.

12. Paul Lo Duca, C .350, 4 HRs, 26 RBIs, 24 R, 0 SB
Good candidate to trade now, at the top of his value.

13. John Thomson, SP 5 W, 4.31 ERA, 57 K, 1.49 WHIP, 0 Sv
Overhyped as a sleeper candidate in a lot of drafts.

14. Geoff Jenkins, OF .258, 8 HRs, 39 RBIs, 35 R, 0 SB
Great player but never played more than 135 games in a year.

15. Jay Payton, OF .281, 3 HRs, 25 RBIs, 24 R, 1 SB
Should have considered impact of move from Coors to Petco.

16. Sean Casey, 1B .368, 11 HRs, 44 RBIs, 48 R, 1 SB
Got lucky with this one. Great season due to good Reds lineup.

17. Joe Randa, 3B .260, 2 HRs, 19 RBIs, 22 R, 0 SB
Serviceable. Could have been more bold with pick here.

18. Khalil Greene, SS .275, 3 HRs, 22 RBIs, 25 R, 1 SB
Now there's a sexy pick. Gonna be great. Will it be this year?

19. Miguel Batista, SP 4 W, 4.20 ERA, 58 K, 1.33 WHIP, 0 Sv
Ooh, those Toronto pitchers. Surely there were better here.

20. Jolbert Cabrera, IF .292, 0 HRs, 12 RBIs, 12 R, 3 SB
Still seeking his niche in Seattle.

21. Wes Helms, 3B .252, 2 HRs, 12 RBIs, 14 R, 0 SB
A better pick than Randa, but subpar nonetheless.

22. Ugueth Urbina, RP 1 W, 4.09 ERA, 25 K, 1.50 WHIP, 10 Sv
Good speculating. Ugie became the Tigers' closer.

23. Jason Lane, OF .245, 0 HRs, 4 RBIs, 7 R, 0 SB
Behind Craig Biggio in Houston. But good bench stash.

24. Pokey Reese, 2B .264, 3 HRs, 24 RBIs, 25 R, 5 SB
Pokey's having a great year ... for Pokey.

25. Lyle Overbay, 1B .339, 7 HRs, 46 RBIs, 26 R, 0 SB
Fantastic. Hell of a pick--his best by far. NL MVP candidate.

26. Tom Gordon, RP 1 W, 1.98 ERA, 30 K, 0.94 WHIP, 1 Sv
Fine pick at this point. Meat definitely gets WHIP and K's.

27. Josh Bard, C .244, 8 HRs, 36 RBIs, 25 R, 0 SB
On the DL the whole season and strictly a backup anyway.

28. Einar Diaz, C .205, 0 HRs, 3 RBIs, 3 R, 0 SB
Doesn't play. But what do you expect at this point in the draft?

29. Claudio Vargas, P 4 W, 5.31 ERA, 48 K, 1.53 WHIP, 0 Sv
Not bad for a final pick. Decent gamble.

PLAYER PROFILE

HERE, according to a 2003 survey of 449 fantasy players that was
conducted for the Fantasy Sports Trade Association by the
University of Mississippi's Kim Beason, is a snapshot of the
fantasy sports nation.

1. Demographics

Avg. age 41
Avg. household size 2.4
Avg. education . Bachelor's degree
Avg. household income $89,566
Males 93%
Caucasian 93%

2. Most popular sports (Percent of fantasy players who played
these at least once)

NFL 92%
MLB 64%
NBA 33%
NASCAR 22%
NHL 20%
Golf 20%
NCAA 19%

3. Average time players spent per week managing teams

MLB 3.02 hours
NFL 2.92 hours
NBA 2.27 hours
NHL 1.74 hours
NASCAR 1.46 hours

4. Percent of participants by sport who checked team online at
work

NFL 64%
NCAA 55%
MLB 51%
NHL 45%
NBA 36%

OBSESSION: CRAZY LIKE A FOX

For actor and team owner Michael J. Fox the addictive powers of
fantasy baseball became apparent five summers ago when he was on
vacation in Florence with his family. Between sightseeing jaunts,
he found himself desperately searching for copies of the
International Herald Tribune so he could check the baseball
linescores and keep tabs on his fantasy team. "I ended up calling
my friends to find out what had happened and who was pitching,"
he says, laughing. "The game can make you a bit obsessive."

A star of TV (Family Ties, Spin City) and movies (Back to the
Future, Life with Mikey), the 43-year-old Fox first played in
1992, when he joined a football league in which he participated
by fax. In '98 he entered his first baseball league while
recovering at his New York City home from brain surgery to treat
tremors related to his Parkinson's disease. "I was sitting around
the house, so I had lots of time," he says. "I called my
assistant and had her come over for the draft on a Saturday at 10
a.m." He breaks into a grin. "She had no idea what she was
getting into."

Fox didn't, either. "It's amazing," he says. "You'd be in a cab
headed to pick up your kids, and you'd hear on the radio that
Pedro Martinez just got injured, and you'd be like, Oh, s---!
Suddenly, you'd forgotten about your kids, and you're trying to
figure out a way to trade Martinez before anyone else in your
league finds out about the injury." He gleefully recalls his
foxiest move, from his first season: snatching righthander
Orlando (El Duque) Hernandez off the waiver wire and dealing him
for slugger Albert Belle, who was in the midst of a season in
which he batted .328, hit 49 homers and amassed 152 RBIs.

Along the way, fantasy baseball kindled in Fox a love for the
real thing. Having grown up a hockey fan in suburban Vancouver,
he says, "I'd never been that into baseball. But my first year
playing [Rotisserie] was the summer of the home run race with
[Mark] McGwire, and it got me into it."

Fox enjoys the anonymity of playing on the Web. His team
names--in the past, he has employed Central Park Rats and
Snowbacks (the term for illegal aliens from Canada)--never betray
his identity. None of his foes (including one who last year
hectored him "relentlessly, like every day," to trade eventual Cy
Young winner Roy Halladay) know whom they're competing against.
Fox has never won a league, largely because, as he puts it,
"there's always some guy out there who doesn't have four kids and
who has more time."

Like all fantasy players, however, he's expert at rationalizing
the time he and others spend on their hobby. "I have one friend
whose kid does it, and he says it's really helped with his math,"
Fox says. He thinks for a second and smiles. "So math, reading
the newspaper, learning about sports. That's not so
bad." --C.B.

GAME GIMMICKS

Those who play fantasy baseball, football and basketball have it
easy. Each of those games relies primarily on obvious and readily
available statistics: touchdowns and homers, for instance, on
offense, and interceptions and steals on defense. Other fantasy
games (including at least one not involving sports at all) have
to dig deeper for categories or trick some up. Here's how a few
of the more esoteric are played.

SOCCER Very big in England, where, of course, it is called
fantasy football. In the Premier League game players enter an
auction (salary cap: 100 million pounds) to select two
goalkeepers, five defenders, five midfielders and three forwards.
Points are awarded for goals (worth four points if scored by a
striker, five if scored by a midfielder or defender, and six if
scored by a defender or goalkeeper), assists (three points),
penalty-kick saves (five points) and playing 60 minutes in a game
(two points). The league awards three points for players "judged
to have made an excellent performance in a game." A fantasy team
loses points when a roster member gets a yellow card (minus one)
or a red card (minus three) or when one of its keepers surrenders
goals (minus one for each two allowed).

NASCAR Generally, players either draft or select drivers based on
a salary-cap system. Points are awarded based on the Nextel Cup
scoring system for each race. Bonus points are awarded for laps
led. Players can add and drop drivers.

BASS FISHING In the ESPN.com fantasy game that tracks the
Bassmaster Tournament Trail, players choose five anglers, each of
whom earns points based on his performance on each day of a
tournament. A catch of five fish (a "limit") is worth five
points; catching none (being "skunked") brings a score of minus
five. You receive bonus points if one of your anglers nails the
heaviest cumulative catch of the day or hooks the day's Big Bass.

FANTASY SUPREME COURT Run by the website lawpsided.com, this free
contest allows players to prognosticate on the high court's cases
each "season" (October to June). Players predict the outcome
(affirm or reverse/remand) and the "vote spread." (A 5-4 ruling
would be a vote spread of one.) Choosing the correct outcome is
worth 10 points; choosing the correct vote spread earns another
15. If a player chooses the correct outcome but the wrong vote
spread, he gets 10 points minus the difference between his
vote-spread guess and the real spread. The winner receives
$500. --C.B.