Redefining Modern Fandom: The Rise of Fantasy Leagues and Sports Nerds
By Tim Marcin
Elm Sports Editor
Fan is a vague word. Sure, it encompasses those of us who watch sports but there are varying styles of fandom and different levels of fan commitment. We all know bandwagon fans—in 2009 Phillies fans tripled in number after a World Series win. Those of us who watched them cellar dwell for over a decade felt cheated. There is a difference between a girl who wears Ravens jerseys to look cute and the forty year-old man who paints his body every Sunday.
In the past few years, however, a new avenue of fandom has emerged. For lack of a better term, the sports nerd has begun to take over. These fans swim through odd stats like WHIP and BABIP, trying to understand the game in ways not available before. Websites like Grantland.com promote themselves as too school for cool—writing articles discussing sports from non-typical angles. ESPN has a new section on Sportscenter called Sports Science. Sports nerds are everywhere. How did we get here?
In a word: fantasy. Fantasy sports were the beginning of it all (that and Bill James, which is a whole different article). In 1980, the modern idea of fantasy sports began with a writer named Daniel Okrent and a group of friends. They would meet every week in the first real “roto” league. What started innocently enough has manifested itself into fans everywhere knowing the stat lines of c-list players by heart.
For those who don’t know what fantasy sports are, here is a definition from Elm Editor-in-Chief Natalie Butz: “It’s dungeons and dragons for jocks.” That’s about right. Fans draft players, watch their stats, and hope that their player’s stats earn more points than their opponents. That is fantasy sports in a very basic nutshell. It is, quite simply, a sports nerd’s dream.
The nerdiest of sports to play in fantasy is baseball. This is so for three reasons. First, baseball takes the most commitment, since the season is a whopping 162 games long and you have to check your roster every day. Second, because this is where fantasy sports first began and where the game has become most advanced. Third, because advanced statistics (think Moneyball) began in baseball, thus there is an inordinate amount of confusing information out there, and everyone playing fantasy is scouring it religiously.
Recently, I participated in a fantasy baseball draft and I realized something—I had become a complete and total sports nerd. Not only was I participating in a fantasy baseball draft, the nerdiest of all fantasy sports, but it was the nerdiest draft imaginable. It was quite a revelation.
It began innocently enough. A few weeks before my friend asked me if I wanted to participate in the league, we talk baseball often and he knew I would be interested. After accepting the invitation, I learned the draft would be done auction style. I had done fantasy baseball before, but never auction-style drafting. This is when all of the players in the league bid imaginary money on each individual player, trying to win them for their team. This was the summit of sports nerdiness.
I had my first auction experience this past Monday. The draft began at six, it ended at ten. It was a marathon. I stared at a computer screen, along with my friend, for four hours seeing what players were left, and attempting to spend our money in the best way possible. Wasting 20 of your allocated $260 on a mediocre player could ruin your whole season. To make matters worse, this draft was done online, with mostly people I did not know, for four long hours. It was exhausting, trying, and mentally consuming. I was so engrossed I completely forgot about The Elm staff meeting I missed (sorry guys).
Yet, I completely enjoyed myself. I loved finding steals (Johan Santana for $2, are you kidding? Two years ago he would have been going for at least $20). I loved writing off players who I felt were overrated (No way Jered Weaver sustains last year’s performance). I was giddy when I got Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw to top my rotation. Like a “nerd” playing dungeons and dragons, I was living my fantasy. Instead of being a knight, goblin, whatever—sorry D&D fans, my knowledge is minimal—I was a GM of a baseball team. I got to spend money on players, analyzing every bit of information, trying to outsmart my opponents in baseball knowledge. What could be better for a sports nerd?
I was almost ashamed that I wasted so much time at my auction draft. I promised myself, “Never again!” But, next year I’ll probably end up doing the same thing. So what if it’s a little pathetic? I love sports. I loved sports stats. I love looking at baseball from different angles. The world of fandom is changing, every day getting more in depth, idiosyncratic, and well, nerdy. My advice, to all the other sports nerds out there: soon we will be the norm, just embrace it.