In 2022, it’s difficult to be in any sports bar, dorm room, or even dinner table in America out of earshot of people raptly discussing fantasy football or mobile sports betting. It’s no stretch to state that the two have forever altered viewership of American football. And with New York recently legalizing sports betting and green lighting four new apps to do just that—Caesars Sportsbook, FanDuel, DraftKings, and Rush Street Interactive—it’s safe to say, there’s no going back.
Below, we examine what it means to be a football fan now and how the advent of sports betting has shifted team loyalties.
THE FOOTBALL PURIST VS. THE FOOTBALL MERCENARY
When most think of football, or any athletic competition for that matter, it is assumed as a given that one would root for a specific team out of loyalty to that franchise or organization. This allegiance or membership to a specific tribe is usually born from an emotional place or reason. As an obvious example, if one grows up in a household of die-hard Detroit Lions fans, one is likely to grow into an adult that is a Detroit Lions fan. The football purist, then, is someone who grew up with a team that they emotionally invest in due to personal and often sentimental reasons. They want their team to win at all costs for the benefit of team glory and fan pride—nothing more, nothing less. Their team’s crushing defeats are their crushing defeats; their team’s euphoric wins are their euphoric wins. Simple as that.
THE FOOTBALL MERCENARY: FANTASY FANS AND SPORTS BETTING GODS
Conversely, the football mercenary isn’t interested in games being won for bragging rights or team pride; they’re interested in football because they want their fantasy team to do well, or, in the case of sports betting, for monetary gain. The football mercenary is drawn to fantasy football so that the fantasy team they created will do well, which requires many players on teams across the AFC and the NFC to do well. They get to create and manage their own teams—to play General Manager without the risks that reality entails.
This is in no way to say that this type of viewership is wrong, but that it is a newer and broader way of appreciating football. Typically, the football mercenary is more data-driven and analytically brained when it comes to engaging with the sport. Their infidelity to a singular team allows them to enjoy many teams, in turn giving them a more objective perspective on the sport. Since they are invested financially and competitively in multiple teams and players, there is an edge to games where there otherwise wouldn’t be.
Additionally, there is a positive, broad-reaching effect that fantasy football and sports betting have produced. Many friends, partners, husbands, boyfriends, wives, and girlfriends are now interested in a sport they never cared for, because there is the reward of glory in winning the fantasy league or money to be won through an easy-to-use sportsbook app.
And that’s not even to get into the specifics of the financial incentives of mobile sportsbooks. Applications like Fliff, Caesars Sportsbook, DraftKings, FanDuel, and more are enticing sports fans and even former non-fans to place their bets and build parlays. These apps often offer complimentary betting money to first-time users to get them betting on their sportsbooks. Caesars Sportsbook offers as much as $300 in betting money to get their users started, and the response to the legalization has been immense. According to a New York Post article published on February 4th, New Yorkers wagered more than $1 billion on these sports betting apps in January alone.
AN ADDITIONAL TAKE: THE HYBRID FAN
Of course, there is nuance in this spectrum—a synthesis of the two extremes. There exists a hybrid fan, the kind of fan who supports their team with blind loyalty, and yet will bet against them when they know in their gambling-loving gut that Vegas is likely to be right.
Regardless of where one sits on the spectrum, the new landscape of football viewership is vast and abounding in opportunity and intrigue. Be you a football purist, mercenary, or a hybrid of the two extremes, the sport has certainly been given a new and fascinating angle new way to take in the sport.