From the very first draft of baseball players at La Rotisserie Francaise restaurant in New York in the late 70s, to a game that now counts millions of participants, fantasy sports has become big business.
But the biggest fantasy prizes come from America’s unofficial pastime, professional football. Forget $20 buy-ins and jelly beans, fantasy football is now paying out in the thousands. Fantasy sports guru Paul Charchian of LeagueSafe.com and president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association has seen it all, and the popularity of the sport is still growing.
“The growth’s been remarkable, just in the last year we moved from 37 million players in the U.S. and Canada, age 12 and up, to 41.5 million players. The rate of fantasy sports adoption has gone crazy, and there’s a lot of reasons,” he says in the attached video. “People love to play; people don’t stop playing, generally, once they start playing and it’s just plain fun. So we see this thing growing a lot. People love playing with their friends; it becomes embedded in their social network if you will, and it becomes part of your life.”
More players coming into the game brings bigger payouts. While most participants play in smaller leagues with friends for little to no money in fantasy prizes, the fantasy sports industry is now witnessing professional website operators with season-long competitions and payouts pushing into the hundreds of thousands.
“There are some bigger-stakes contests where you play against thousands of people, for much bigger money if that’s what you're interested in,” Charchian notes. Typically how this works is these sites will hold a season-long contest where upwards of 400 teams - each usually paying more than $1,000 as a buy-in - will play in 10 to 12-team leagues, and the top three teams from each league go into a playoff. The team that scores the most overall points in, say, weeks 13 through 16 of the NFL season will win the big payout, which would easily top $100,000. Winners of their individual 10 to 12-team leagues can win smaller prizes, although many would not consider a $10,000 payout small.
There are a number of operators paying out huge prizes. According to Charchian, here are the biggest competitions.
The Main Event leagues hand out $10,000 prizes to individual league winners, and $150,000 to the Grand Prize winner.
A bit more high-stakes, with the Grand Prize winner taking home $200,000, and winners of individual leagues taking home only $1,000.
The NFL in fact has the biggest prize in fantasy football, at $1 million. Players must predict the perfect fantasy lineup each week, Charchian says, and as a bonus “it’s actually a free game that’ll pay [a winner] a million dollars.”
Still looking to join a league or play with friends? Check out Yahoo Fantasy Football, leagues are drafting now.