Supply follows demand. That truism has certainly held true with fantasy sports, and particularly, fantasy football. In the event of a full repeal of PASPA in Murphy vs. NCAA, the phenomenon is destined to be repeated with sports betting.
A little over two decades ago, fantasy sports were still a proverbial pariah in sports media. That’s likely difficult to believe for the generation that’s grown up with it as an indelible part of their fandom and sports consumption habits. ESPN’s now-annual Fantasy Football Marathon, which hit a mammoth 28 hours in 2017, is the quintessential example of how embedded the activity is in the current fan’s lexicon.
Sports betting was once an NFL pregame fixture
However, there was an era where another real-money, sports-based gaming activity had its own niche alongside conventional sports media coverage. And that was the case even though it was only legal in one state to boot.
Yes, sports betting enjoyed a sizable (relative to its time) and consistent role on the NFL pregame extravaganzas for both CBS and NBC for years, and in an age when network television commanded a much more significant chunk of the viewing audience.
Those segments evaporated over the years, with their demise on the CBS’ NFL Today likely accelerated by the sudden firing of famed prognosticator Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder in January 1988 for racially inappropriate remarks.
Fantasy sports’ media profile has expanded over time
Conversely, over time, fantasy sports began to carve out its own space in TV and print media sports platforms. A smattering of many examples pertaining to their progressive emergence includes:
- USA Today initiating its first fantasy baseball column in 1992.
- The NFL airing its first fantasy football commercial a decade later in 2002.
- Matthew Berry being hired by ESPN in 2007 to the newly-created position of Director of Fantasy Sports and spearheading the considerable expansion of the network’s fantasy coverage over the next decade-plus and counting.
- DirecTV adding a dedicated “Fantasy Zone” channel to its Sunday Ticket package in 2014, designed to give the avid season-long or daily fantasy player an easy way to track the performance of their players.
- Fantasy Sports Network launching in March 2014 as the first 24-hour channel dedicated to fantasy sports.
Sports betting to follow a similar path if legalized?
If sports betting suddenly enjoys the potential for nationwide legalization, is history bound to repeat itself?
All signs point firmly in that direction. You wouldn’t need to look any further than the February 2017 debut of the Vegas Stats and Information Network (VSIN) – a venture that pulled Brent Musburger away from a 44-year career network and cable television career – as a model of how extensive sports betting media coverage could get.
Likewise, eventual and significant penetration into mainstream network sports coverage is not only conceivable, but likely inevitable.
NFL pregame shows have long offered fantasy-centered segments, and fantasy-specific statistics have now worked their way into bottom-of-screen scrolls during game broadcasts alongside the actual scores that once enjoyed exclusive domain. Similarly, point spreads, money lines, individual player props and other related metrics figure to garner a comparable presence over time, especially once the stigma surrounding sports betting is lifted.
As with fantasy sports, demand will naturally fuel this development. And with a record $4.8 billion reportedly wagered in Nevada alone in 2017 – an all-time high $1.7 billion of that on football – a prominent role for sports-based wagering content on today’s multiple media platforms is about as sure a bet as there is.