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As the football season approaches, so does the 'fantasy' game so many are consumed by.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Wade EvansonIn my best Ricardo Montalban/Mr. Roarke from Fantasy Island voice, "Welcome to fantasy football!"

Yep, the clock is ticking on the upcoming NFL football regular season, and with it comes another fantasy football campaign for the addicts ... er … fans of the game gambling has made famous over the last half-century.

That's right, fantasy football is more than 50 years old, and while its roots trace back to 1962, its popularity may only now be reaching its peak. After all, like March Madness before it, fantasy football isn't just for the diehards of the sport, but also for the everyday, fringe and even somewhat non-fans of the game.

What started as a paper-and-pencil endeavor has turned into an Internet sensation. From Yahoo to ESPN, NFL.com to CBS Sportsline, and Fox Sports to daily sites like Fan Duel, there seem to be countless platforms to host aspiring leagues, teams or individuals looking for a new or used home for their fantasy fix. And don't kid yourself — it's become big business.

While most fantasy owners play for free when it comes to their host of choice, research suggests fantasy owners are more likely to purchase alcohol, airline tickets, fast food, soft drinks and even sports magazines, which the real "experts" use as tools to the top of their respective leagues. In addition, fantasy footballers have been known to partake in subscription-based websites such as Football Guys or rotoworld.com, which, like the magazines, offer informational advantages for those willing to go the extra mile.

And why not? While you or I may play for fun, a few bucks or the pride of prevailing over friends or coworkers, others are in it for cold, hard cash.

In 2016, more than $3 billion was taken in from entry fees on daily fantasy sites like Fan Duel and Draft Kings. From that, roughly $250 million in revenue was generated.

That's no joke.

More interestingly, it wasn't all that long ago that the NFL frowned on the fantasy form of its game, citing the potentially negative effects of what has now become a runaway train of monetary momentum for the league itself. They feared their fans would trade their longtime allegiance to teams for that of the individuals that made their team du jour tick — and they were right. But while fantasy players' rooting interest seems to flip more than a politician on the campaign trail, the positive effects of that "flipper" far outweigh the negatives when it comes to the NFL owners with the most to gain.

Fantasy players watch more game telecasts, which results in more TV revenue. They buy more tickets and spend more money at stadiums, reportedly attending games at a .22 to .57 rate more than their non-fantasy brethren. And all of that has led to sponsorship deals like one the NFL reached with Sprint in the last decade, reportedly worth $600 million over a five-year period, driven at least in part due to fantasy sports — because subscribers were and continue to be able to monitor their teams' performance with their cell phones and comparable devices.

It's not all good, however. Like games along the lines of Solitaire or Minesweeper did years ago, fantasy football has a way of distracting people in the workplace. According to Wikipedia, a "rough calculation" based on the alleged time managers estimated their employees spent managing their teams, combined with the number of team managers and their average wages, suggests $6 billion in wasted productivity.

Ouch.

What does this all mean? Heck if I know. I don't own a business, a fantasy website or an NFL team, but I do own a couple fantasy football teams on an annual basis, and like many of you, I'll be drafting my players in the coming weeks and weighing the options available to me when it comes to beating into submission the fantasy nerds I've chosen to battle with for years in those same fantasy trenches.

It's been a long eight months, but football is back, and thankfully — or not — so is fantasy football.


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