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Fantasy is Reality: A Look at the Growing Engagement in Fantasy Sports

3 minute read | August 2018

From the draft party through the playoffs, fantasy sports get fans engaged with the competition—checking the waiver wire, making trades, following weekly matchups and seeking out updated scores.

Fantasy sports participation has steadily increased over the past few years, coinciding with the rise of daily fantasy sports games and a growing number of websites and apps to help players stay current with player stats so they can stay ahead of the competition.

According to Nielsen Scarborough, fantasy sports participation in the U.S. increased from approximately 8.3 million in 2012 to 15.6 million in 2017. That means that 6.2% of the general adult population played some kind of fantasy sport last year.

6.2% of the general adult population in the U.S. played some kind of fantasy sport last year

The increase in interest has had a particularly big impact on professional football, as the number of NFL fans who play fantasy sports grew from 7.4 million in 2012 to 12.5 million in 2017.

When it comes to fantasy football hotspots, the “Mile High City” of Denver has the highest rate of fantasy sports participation among NFL fans, at 8.3%, followed by Kansas City, Minneapolis/St. Paul, El Paso and New Orleans. Three of the top 10 fantasy football markets are in Texas, which is well known for its avid football fandom.

Young adult males make up the core of the fantasy football player base, as 42% of NFL fans who play fantasy football are men ages 18-34. Avid NFL fans who play fantasy sports also stand out for their collective “smarts,” by being 47% more likely than the general population to have done post-graduate work or earned a master’s degree or higher. NFL fans who play fantasy football also earn higher incomes on average than the general population. They are 67% more likely to have a household income of $250,000 or more.

Food and drinks that go along with watching football are popular with fantasy players, as 40% say they’ve had frozen pizza in the past seven days (40% more likely than the general population) and 63% ate chips, pretzels or popcorn.

Overall, NFL fans who play fantasy sports tend to dine out at various restaurants more than the general population, and they’re 195% more likely to have visited a sports bar in the past 30 days. For drink choices, 74% consider beer their adult beverage of choice, and 66% drink liquor; 29% have had a beer at a nightclub or bar, which is more than three times the general population.

But, don’t let those food and drink choices make you think fantasy participants don’t care about their health. In fact, they’re 57% more likely than the general population to belong to a health club or gym.

Drafts are wrapping up for people starting a new season of fantasy football. The regular NFL season begins Sept. 6 with a Thursday night matchup between the 2018 Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles and the Atlanta Falcons at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

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