Who Invented Fantasy Football?

In a hotel room in 1962, fantasy football was invented. The game, based on other fantasy leagues, would slowly but surely sweep the nation and change how the NFL operated. Here’s a brief history of fantasy football and how it continues to change the NFL today. 

Oakland beginnings

Wilfred Winkenbach, a man who had a stake in the Oakland Raiders, was the inventor of many fantasy leagues. Based off of the golf and baseball fantasy leagues that he invented in the 1950s, Winkenbach created fantasy football with two other men.

These two men were Scotty Stirling and George Ross, and together, the three of them devised the rules for the very first fantasy football league. Called the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League (GOPPPL), it had eight teams that were drafted by the three men and some friends and colleagues. 

At first, the GOPPPL was a private group, and nobody besides the members of the GOPPPL were aware that fantasy football even existed. The exclusivity was in part because everyone in the group was friends and they didn’t trust a random person off the streets to be able to play in the league. 

In 1969 though, one of the members of the GOPPPL, Andy Mousalimas, took the leap forward and told some patrons at a sports bar about the GOPPPL. The bar patrons were interested in it, and surely enough, several other local leagues were formed purely by word of mouth. 

Internet age

However, things died back down again as it was very tedious and difficult to keep track of all the stats necessary to run a league. Despite that technological hurdle, by 1989, over a million people in the U.S. were playing fantasy football. Soon, with the advent of the internet, things began to change quickly.

Although Winkenbach died in 1993 at the age of 81, fantasy football soon became the massive hit that it is today. In 1997, CBS started an online fantasy football league and it immediately became popular. 

Commentators and analysts were talking about fantasy football and other fantasy leagues on air, and that free advertising only made the game more widespread. By 2006, over 18 million Americans played a fantasy sport and according to CNN, in 2015, over 40 million Americans played in a fantasy league.

Fantasy football is still the largest fantasy sport, with CNN reporting that 36% of 40 million Americans were playing fantasy football. That comes out to about 14.4 million fantasy football players in the U.S. alone. 

This massive popularity in the game changed many different aspects of the NFL for the better.

Every game counts

The biggest benefit for the NFL was the fact that these fantasy football leagues made people care about almost every game of the season. In the past, fans only followed the games where their home team or favorite team played, but not anymore with fantasy football.

Now, fans who’ve drafted players from several different teams like the Patriots and the Seahawks will have more games they’ll have to pay attention to per season. That ultimately means more viewership and that translates to more money for the NFL. 

In addition to that, the NFL’s even created a new channel, RedZone, that caters to fantasy football fans. Furthermore, teams are upgrading their stadiums to accommodate their fantasy football fans. These upgrades range from improving their stadium WiFi to creating lounges for fantasy players. 

It’s also affected how people watch the NFL too. Sports betting is still illegal in many states, but betting on your fantasy football team isn’t. As a result, with billions of wagers being made on sites like DraftKings and FanDuel, fantasy sports have become a way for fans to make some money too.