How the Modern Technology of Fantasy Football Has Changed the NFL

Some of the biggest stars of fantasy football.

In 1962, Bill Winkenbach, a then part owner of the Oakland Raiders football team, formed the first fantasy football league. According to Adam Augustyn of, “Winkenbach gathered with some friends in a New York City hotel, and together they created the first fantasy football league, which was dubbed the GOPPPL.” Also known as the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League. The rest is history. According to Josh Weinfuss of, about forty million Americans play fantasy football each year, another twenty million people play in India and these numbers are only projected to get larger. The reason these numbers are growing as fast as they are is due in large part to the technology fantasy football provides. You can play anywhere, anytime, on almost any device. But what does this technology mean for the National Football League? Essentially, for the NFL, all it means is more money and more profit. In fact, the ease of access fantasy football provides has led to the NFL dominating sports ratings over the last decade.

            Since Bill Winkenbach and his friends established their fantasy football league in 1962, the technology of fantasy football has come a long way. For the longest time fantasy football was played on paper. League owners and managers kept track of their players’ statistics on paper and compared their scores. The game was popular before the internet, but according to Nick Martinez-Esquibel of The Fantasy Footballers the game exploded in 1997 when, “ launched their first version of the game, making it free for anyone who wanted to play. It was an instant hit. Fantasy football was no longer a diamond in the rough but was at the beginning stages of becoming the multi-billion industry it currently is.” Three years later, ESPN launched their version of fantasy football and it has since become the most popular platform for fantasy football players. There are now over ten platforms to play fantasy football and that number keeps on growing.

            As the technology of the fantasy football platforms and the technology around the world has progressed, the information and data that the platforms provide has become substantially important to the success of fantasy football. Most platforms have advanced statisticians working for them that calculate data and use that data to project how many points players will score. This makes life easier for fantasy football players as they can use these projections to help set their lineup. In fact, in the NFL Fantasy Football app, there is an “Optimize Lineup” button which starts your highest projected players and ensures you’re never starting someone not playing due to a bye week or an injury. The ESPN Fantasy Football app also has a unique setting in which they use IBM Watson to calculate and recommend trade offers with other teams. These are just a few of the technological advancements in fantasy football that has made the game so much easier to play.

            I was recently able to interview Nick Ercolano of BDGE Fantasy Football. When I asked him about the difference in fantasy football technology now compared to when he first started playing fantasy football, he explained, “It’s night and day. People have become increasingly passionate about the game of fantasy football. Increased passion for a particular subject tends to lead to innovation. Innovation tends to get backed by a lot of money.” The key word in that explanation is innovation and Ercolano is completely right. Over the years, innovation has always been backed by a lot of money. And it is clearly no different with fantasy football.

            The data provided by fantasy football platforms has allowed many new people to partake in and succeed in fantasy football leagues. Rankings from fantasy football experts allow players to use these rankings when setting their lineups in order to help them score an optimized number of points. Projections from advanced statisticians also allow players to use these projections to help them set their lineup in order to score the most points every week. These factors have allowed newcomers to fantasy football to have just as much, if not more, success than people who have been playing the game for a large amount of time. Some people see this is a bad thing because they believe it makes doing your own research and putting in time and effort less important and less crucial to having success in fantasy football leagues. However, newcomers being able to have success means more and more people have joined fantasy football which only means good things for the NFL.

            Over the years, the NFL has dominated sports ratings. According to Rick Porter of The Hollywood Reporter, despite a decline in ratings from 2019 to 2020, “the NFL remains far and away the No. 1 programming franchise on ad-supported TV. The late Sunday afternoon games shared by CBS and Fox drew 21.59 million weekly viewers this season, almost 5 million more than the top primetime show of the fall: NBC’s Sunday Night Football at just under 16.8 million, which is on pace to be the top primetime series for the 10th consecutive season.” Sunday Night Football did, in fact, go on to be the top primetime series for the 10th consecutive season. It is no coincidence that as the NFL continues to dominate ratings, the engagement in fantasy football continues to skyrocket. According to, “The increase in interest has had a particularly big impact on professional football, as the number of NFL fans who play fantasy sports grew from 7.4 million in 2012 to 12.5 million in 2017.” This spike in people who play fantasy football means more people have an interest in watching NFL games. So, the rise in popularity of fantasy football has to be a reason the NFL continues to dominate sports ratings.

            I asked Ercolano if he thought fantasy football had changed how many people watch NFL games. He replied, “Any simple football fan could tell you the answer to this is a resounding yes.” Ercolano followed this up by explaining, “I think we’re going to see a massive shift in philosophy in terms of how the NFL allows fans to experience games. Most fans would prefer sitting at home, with access to their computer, scores and phones readily in their hands than sitting in seats that make players on the field look like ants.” These remarks reflect the statistics pointed out earlier about the NFL’s ratings over the years.

            At this point it is no secret that fantasy football has become increasingly popular over the years and more people are becoming increasingly passionate about it. Just like any other sport, business, or idea that sees an increase in passion and engagement, that sport, business, or idea will see an increase in profit and so will the subjects surrounding it. In this case, fantasy football is the idea, and the NFL is the subject surrounding it. Therefore, if fantasy football continues to see an increase in popularity, there is no reason the NFL will not see an increase in popularity and money. This is a huge factor as to why the NFL has been able to dominate sports ratings over the last decade.

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