Fantasy football has overtaken the NFL

For years I have been waffling on my feelings about fantasy sports, especially fantasy football.

The cynic in me immediately disliked the concept of fantasy anything. For me, fantasy football seems like a frat-guy version of Dungeons and Dragons. Nothing against D&D either, but it appears to be an ode to the imaginary. For anyone other than a kid, I see fantasy as a waste of time for adults.

That’s me though.

Fantasy football
Fantasy football means fans watch the games like this.

But I also think fantasy actually hurts sports. I don’t like that it has changed how most fans watch games. Sure, folks may still have a favorite team but, with fantasy, you’re rooting for singular players, not a team. You may find yourself rooting for a player playing against your favorite team.

This creates a seemingly impossible reality for players to live up to. Take what Seattle’s Jermaine Kearse had to say about it.

“I think it’s starting, kind of, to be more about fantasy football than, like, football. You start to see that. All you hear about is, ‘Oh, this guy got me this amount of points.’ I was talking to a teammate and he made a really good point: It also gives people just reasons to watch games they really wouldn’t watch. But I think it’s all about fantasy football for fans. Or that’s where I think it’s heading.”

Fantasy football makes fans root for players, not teams.

More and more fans are consumed by fantasy football. The rise of Draft Kings and other online fantasy sites has increased. Fantasy football has become a billion-dollar industry.

My children, for example, only know the sport because they play fantasy. My oldest son, bless his heart, doesn’t even know how many players position themselves on offense and defense. But he knows enough to play in three fantasy leagues where he typically finishes in the top three. Go figure. He’ll only watch games involving one of his players and cares only when those players do well.

My assumption is that he is not alone in this habit. In fact, my guess is that he is in the great majority. Fantasy football isn’t going anywhere – and the NFL knows it attracts the average fan, like my son – but something is lost when you approach the game that way.

Russia. Olympic Doping

Olympic doping is a symptom not a cause

Olympic doping "I'm shocked"Olympic doping? Remember when Captain Renault (Claude Raines from the 1942 movie Casablanca) famously said “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!”

I’m afraid that is exactly my sarcastic response to implications that the Russian Olympic team doped during the Sochi Olympics and that that coverup was systemic to the Russian state.

Are you shocked? I doubt it.

However, I don’t think this stops with the Russian team. Let’s face facts: Doping and cheating in athletics is a global epidemic that, just like the Spanish Flu of 1918, it respects no boarders and infects the entire globe.

Does Olympic doping bother me?

Lance Armstrong and Olympic dopingYes. But I’m not appalled. Unlike almost all of my friends, I have given up professional sports (and the Olympics are PROFESSIONAL sports) and I am fast losing interest in intercollegiate sports as well. Did my malaise start with Lance Armstrong? Not really. It started when it occurred to me that athletic competition was becoming a religion where winning was embraced as a modern form of spiritual redemption.

The problem is the wealth that comes along with winning and, to borrow a term from Donald Trump, “trust me” fame is a form of wealth.

The cult of athletics is not one of humanity’s finer traits. It clouds judgment, suspends introspection and deludes accomplishment. Fans identify with their teams so completely that they ignore the facts that even in intercollegiate athletics, athletes are not the representative of the schools for which they compete. The student athlete for the University of Kentucky’s basketball team has as much in common with the students and grads of that university as I do with an NFL athlete. By the way, don’t think I am ragging on the Wildcats (although they are top-of-mind with me). You could insert almost any university brand in the sentence including North Carolina, Alabama, Oklahoma… etc. Only Temple University is exempt (check my bio).

Winning is all that matters

In a global culture where winning is a form of self-identification, it is not surprising that we have had scandals in major league baseball, football and cycling. The personal identification with the Manchester United’s of the world is overwhelming but that blind ignorance pales compared to the xenophobic nationalism of the Olympics. Do you think only the Russians cheated?

Olympic DopingMy God, this past week I heard allegations that the Kenyan long distance runners have been doping. You know these super humans? They are 6’4” (legs are 5’ of that height) and they weigh 58 kilos. Rumor has it that they have the hollow bones found only in birds so as to be lighter on their feet. These are the guys and gals that finish the marathon before any of those running the half-marathon come even close to the finish line.

As I think about it, I don’t watch much in the way of sports anymore because I don’t want to think of myself as a fool. Someone duped into thinking everything is on the up and up and athletic accomplishment comes solely from hard work and dedication. I’m not duped because everyone seems to be doped.

Earlier blogs about athletics and the Olympics

With the Olympics, NBC earned gold. Without it, struggling for bronze.

Lance Armstrong finally admits the truth about the NFL


The brand of Cam Newton

The quarterback matchup in Super Bowl 50 is going to be fierce, with the old guard (Peyton Manning) facing the new one (Cam Newton) in a battle of contrasting styles.

Cam Newton
Who doesn’t like Cam Newton?

And I’m not just talking about what happens on the field. No, a recent poll among industry insiders by named Newton as the most marketable player in the NFL.

That means he’s topping Manning, who led the NFL this season in endorsements with more than $12 million pocketed. That’s no surprise to anyone as we’ve all seen him in spots for Papa John’s, Nationwide, Nike, DirecTV and Buick.

Cam Newton, meanwhile, has signed deals with Under Armor, Dannon Oikos, Gatorade, Microsoft, Beats by Dre, GMC, Drakker Essence, EA Sports and Belk. That doesn’t even account for being the host of Nickelodeon’s upcoming “I Wanna Be,” an adventure-documentary series set to air later this year.

What’s interesting to me is that there has been some consternation in the media about Cam Newton’s actions on the field. Letters to The Charlotte Observer have chided him for dancing in the end zone, pointing after a first down and generally playing against the stereotype of the stoic NFL quarterback.

(Never mind that Aaron Rodgers does the championship belt move after a TD or that JJ Watt screams or that Rob Gronkowski slams the ball to the ground.)

The supposed outrage against Newton is actually small and simply a made-up storyline for Super Bowl week. However, Cam Newton is a new kind of quarterback. One who plays with joy. He is often smiling, high-fiving teammates and giving footballs to the kids lining the end zone stands.

Even though I might have some bias because I live in North Carolina, I ask: How can you not like that?

What Cam Newton means to Millennials.

There’s another part to this, and I don’t mean the race angle that has popped up in some discussions. We’re entering a new age when it comes to demographics. Advertisers are scrambling to understand Millennials, the incoming buying audience.

Like any new generation, its members have their own personality traits. What makes Millennials so different is that they are the first generation to grow up in the iPhone world.

There’s not the space here to go into how today’s world has affected them. But our research demonstrates that Millennials are less judgmental than previous generations and a Cam Newton-style quarterback is more in line with their personalities than the stoic images of Unitas, Montana, Manning and the like.

So, no matter where you stand on the Cam Newton issue today, you’d better get used to it. Cam Newton, the marketable NFL player, is here to stay.

The Peyton Manning HGH difference

The current sports story that fascinates me the most is the Peyton Manning HGH narrative, as first reported in a documentary by Al Jazeera.

I’m not so much interested in the truth or falsehood of the report but how the reaction to it differs from other NFL scandals, specifically Tom Brady and Deflategate.

Manning HGH
We look at him differently than Brady even after the Manning HGH report.

Brady, who was charged by the NFL with leading an operation to deflate footballs (and, therefore, being easier to throw), has been under a cloud of suspicion by just about everyone but Patriot fans.

Manning, who has been Brady’s on-field rival for decades, has seemingly risen above suspicion for a whole host of reasons.

One of them is brand. Brady’s is painted with the New England Patriot brush, whose colors include Spygate, the Jedi-mind genius of head coach Bill Belichick and four Super Bowl rings. Those prompt jealousy and distrust.

The Manning HGH report can’t overcome the Manning brand.

Manning, who is the extremely popular and likeable spokesperson in many TV ads, has a brand that’s locked into the powerful myth of the Manning family (Archie, Eli, Cooper and his mother, Olivia), the legendary stories of his intellectual acumen and an athleticism that borders on being laughable.

That is, because of the how the brands of the two quarterbacks are perceived, the Manning HGH story hasn’t nearly been as a high profile as the Brady Deflategate narrative has.

That’s what I’m talking about here. Beliefs. Beliefs don’t have to be true to be powerful. They just have to be believed. In fact, when you know a target audience’s belief system, you can predict its actions and influence them. That’s how brands steal market share.

There are other reasons, of course, why there is some cynicism about Al Jazeera’s Manning HGH report. The source of the documentary has recanted the story and even Al Jazeera is saying it isn’t reporting that Manning took HGH. Just that HGH was delivered to his wife.

But Manning understands his brand, which is why he appeared on ESPN the morning after the report. He came off as angry, passionate, serious and forthcoming. It was such a powerful performance that it sucked the air out of the Manning HGH storyline.

Brady, when first confronted with the Deflategate charges, took a different approach. He was flippant and dismissive, and has remained so. That doesn’t mean he’s guilty and Manning isn’t.

But belief systems come into play when forming public opinion about each situation.

College Football Playoff bungled

The College Football Playoff has been a total and unmitigated bust. From the bowl games that were blowouts to the national championship semifinals being stupidly scheduled for New Year’s Eve, the NCAA directors have clearly bungled the schedule.

College Football Playoff
Moving the College Football Playoff games to New Year’s Eve was a mistake.

There was little they could do about the blowouts, although some have said that organizers could have done a better job of matching them up. But there’s always a risk that games won’t be the thrillers broadcasters hope for.

But putting the College Football Playoff semifinals on New Year’s Eve was a sign of hubris. TV viewership was down 45% from last year when the games were held on New Year’s Day.

On New Year’s Eve, with games at 4 and 8 pm, you’d have to be a committed fan to tune in, leaving the casual fan (who is the target audience that typically gooses ratings) out of the equation.

If anything, the New Year’s Eve shows from Times Square outperformed the football games. New Year’s Eve isn’t for football. It’s for partying and celebrating the New Year.

The College Football Playoff attempt.

What the powers behind the College Football Playoff were trying to do was to own a day. The thought process was that, while we were all ringing in the New Year, we’d have the football games on in the background. That the College Football Playoff semifinals would serve as a staple for any New Year’s Eve party.

The problem is one of brand permission. The College Football Playoff has permission to own New Year’s Day, as it’s the traditional day for bowl games. (Even if most bowls are held on other days today.) Bowl games are what start the New Year, not ringing it in.

The misstep is a result of a complete misunderstanding of the college football brand, especially bowl season. ESPN, which carried the College Football Playoff semifinals, actually wanted them to be played on Jan. 2 because it was on a Saturday, another day in which college football has permission to own. That would have worked.

The disturbing part is that those same officials who wanted the New Year’s Eve semifinal match-ups want them again next year. That sounds like stubbornness, an attempt to demonstrate that the move was correct even if the numbers loudly suggest otherwise.

The championship game between Clemson and Alabama may draw larger numbers next week, but my expectation is that the College Football Playoff has already lost its audience.