Football Fans’ Dreams vs. Their Lives on the Field

Fantasy football offers a better chance of experiencing a weekly thrill and, at times, a welcome dose of hope for supporters of persistently struggling NFL organizations. You may still prove your competitive mettle against your pals with your fantasy team, even if your real-life team is the laughingstock of the league. But if we have a vested interest in the outcome of our fantasy teams, do we stop rooting for the teams we formerly did?



How many of the almost 60 million Americans and Canadians who participate in fantasy sports each year worry more about the performance of their fantasy team than that of their actual favorite teams?


To get to these issues, we polled over a thousand football fans on their fantasy and real-life allegiances. We were curious as to what percentage of NFL fans are more concerned with winning their fantasy league than actually rooting for their team to win. We looked at how much time and money fantasy players put into the hobby to get an idea of how it affected their dedication to the genre.


Read on to learn the critical context for answering the question of whether or not fantasy teams divert our attention from the real teams in action.

Dedication Persistence

To begin, we measured how long typical fans of each franchise have been fans and engaged in fantasy activities. Pittsburgh sports supporters, known as Steeler Nation, have the longest average loyalty at over 24 years. There was a deep well of loyalty (or masochism) in Cleveland; despite the team’s many failures, Browns fans stuck by them for an average of 23.9 years. Interestingly, Browns supporters also had the highest average years spent participating in fantasy leagues, which may have helped them weather the team’s darkest seasons. The average Bengals fan also has more expertise in fantasy football than any other fan base, although his team hasn’t been the playoffs since 1990.



It stands to reason that teams that have been around for longer will have older fan bases, and thus longer histories of fandom and fantasy play. True team supporters tended to be older; the average age of NFL fans in Pittsburgh and Cleveland were among the highest. However, even the most loyal Bills and Cardinals fans lack extensive fantasy experience. The tremendous popularity of fantasy sports is a relatively new phenomena, thus age may not matter in this context. The number of people playing fantasy sports in the United States and Canada has doubled between 2009 and 2017.


Success and Failure in Team Selection

When forced to pick a side, most supporters stuck with the team they root for in real life. Seventy-four percent of fans, on average, would rather see their favorite NFL club make the playoffs than their fantasy squad. Even while there is financial reward for winning fantasy leagues, many people say they would rather see their actual team win the championship. However, financial investment was correlated with postseason expectations for fantasy teams.



Some fans were quite vicious in defense of their fantasy teams in the wake of major injuries to their favorite players. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the Cardinals’ starting quarterback, half of Arizona fans stated they would rather have their team’s starting quarterback get hurt than their top fantasy quarterback. To improve their fantasy standings, Arizona fans were more prone than others to publicly discredit the team. The Cardinals’ fan base is among the top five in terms of its preference for seeing its fantasy team advance to the playoffs and ultimately win the title.


Commitment Time for the Team

Our data suggests that, while fantasy teams may not inspire more intense fandoms than real franchises, they do necessitate more time. The specifics of effective fantasy management are at the heart of this dynamic. Our respondents spent approximately twice as much time each week researching predicted numbers and starting lineups for their fantasy squads than they did monitoring general news relating to their real teams. They also spent an extra nine minutes monitoring the waiver wire and an extra seven minutes reading about injuries to fantasy players.



Total time demands for regular teams vs. fantasy teams were drastically different. Fans devoted over three hours every week to keeping up with their fantasy teams, but just slightly more than two hours to their actual clubs. Real players are aware of the spotlight on fantasy data and share some of the frustration that comes with it. Several famous athletes have turned to Twitter to declare their indifference to the fantasy results of their fans.


Managing and Investing in Several Leagues at Once In

Many fantasy sports fans participate in more than one league, where they may test their skills against a wider variety of opponents and try out new rules and strategies. Our data showed that, on average, players took part in two different fantasy leagues each year. Considering the prevalent worry that the NFL is losing its grip on younger fans, this is an intriguing conclusion. At least when it comes to fantasy sports, millennials don’t seem less enthusiastic than previous generations.



On average, millennials paid more than their elders to play in any given league. Given the stagnant wages and mounting student loans plaguing this generation, that’s an especially intriguing discovery. On average, millennials paid $70 to join a league, $15 less than baby boomers, and $53 less than Gen Xers.


Ample Amount of Adoration from Fans

Our research indicates that, on average, fans devote more resources to their fantasy leagues than to their favorite real-life teams. Despite their dedication to their fantasy teams, real-life franchises are prioritized when major events occur, such as player injuries and postseason appearances. Perhaps the communal feeling of rooting for a real team will always be unmatched by fantasy leagues. When our fantasy teams win, we get to boast to our friends. However, when a team in the NFL is proclaimed champion, the entire fan base can celebrate together.


Our findings also indicate that football enthusiasts can enjoy both the fantastic and the genuine sides of the game without having to compromise. You can pursue your various interests separately so long as you have the time. Your fandom is not in issue if you cheer for more than one team at a time, unless those teams happen to compete in the same league.



Using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, we were able to get responses from over 1,012. There were 69.6% men and 30.4% women who took part. With a median of 24, a mean of 34, and a standard deviation of 9, participants’ ages spanned from 18 to 76. If a participant did not like any NFL club, did not play in a fantasy football league, or failed an attention-check question or entered plainly inconsistent data, they were disqualified from further participation. There was no attempt at scientific confirmation.


There may be limitations to self-reported research because of the ways in which respondents answer surveys. Some examples of these drawbacks are making sweeping generalizations or jumping to conclusions, or attributing motives or responsibility where none exist.

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