Fantasy Sports Online

In March of this year I had the unlikely pleasure of speaking about online trends at the Fantasy Sports Trade Association (FSTA) conference in Las Vegas. I've never been a professional sports fan, much less a fantasy sports player, but the enthusiasm of the FSTA members and passion for their industry impressed me, and I found my commonality with the group was a love of data. While fantasy sports players pore over draft picks and player statistics, I look at data on what our sample of 10 million U.S. internet users is doing online every day, and one of those things is playing fantasy sports.

Fantasy sports is a quietly growing industry filled with passionate sports fans who value a true connection with their customers. Following is a summary of learnings from the conference that might surprise those unfamiliar with fantasy sports.

Dr. Kim Beason, professor at the University of Mississippi, presented findings of an annual survey of fantasy sports players. From this survey, it was estimated that the fantasy sports industry generates $1.5 billion in revenue per year, and has 15 million total consumers. The industry has been growing at a rate of between seven and 10 percent per year for the last three years. The majority of fantasy sports players belong to online leagues, which I'll get to shortly.

According to Dr. Beason's survey, the typical active fantasy sports player is a married, educated suburban male homeowner in his late 30s. Hitwise demographic data show that 55 percent of visitors to fantasy sports sites have household incomes greater than $60,000 per year, and according to Dr. Beason's survey, they spend $493 per year on fantasy sports.

Dr. Beason's survey also revealed that the active players have been playing for nine or more years, and are likely to be in two sport leagues, and more than one league per sport. They spend about three hours per week managing their teams, and an average of 34 minutes per day "thinking" about fantasy sports. Additionally, 55 percent of those surveyed say that they watch more sports on TV because of their involvement in fantasy sports leagues, and they are much more likely to go to professional sports games than the average American.

Clearly the fantasy sports player is highly involved in this leisure activity, and data show that players value the camaraderie they gain from participating in fantasy sports leagues. Forty percent of Dr. Beason's survey respondents agreed with the statement "fantasy sport participation increases the camaraderie among employees at my workplace," and 57 percent agreed with the statement "I talk to other employees about fantasy sports during my lunch/supper breaks." While some may see this as a drain on productivity, the connections its helps foster almost certainly enhance communication in the workplace.

Hitwise data show that the fall football season is by far the busiest time for fantasy sports online, with visits to the category increasing by 78 percent from August to September 2005. The chart below demonstrates this large increase, as well in the smaller increases in March, during the NCAA basketball tournament, and in early April at the start of baseball season. To give an idea of magnitude, for the week ending May 5, 2006 visits to the Fantasy Sports category accounted for 0.27 percent of all internet visits, slightly more than visits to the Aviation - Commercial Airlines category, which accounted for 0.24 percent of internet visits in that period.

The fantasy sports category is top-heavy, with the top 10 sites accounting for 88 percent of category visits in the week ending May 6, 2006. Yahoo! Fantasy Sports, CBS Sportsline and ESPN Fantasy games lead the pack, but there's still room for 190 more sites within the category to compete for market share.

Hitwise data also demonstrate the high level of involvement of the fantasy sports player; the average session time for a visit to the category was 11 minutes one second for the week ending May 6, 2006, 38 percent greater than the average sports category visit at seven minutes 59 seconds. According to Hitwise clickstream data, 74 percent of Fantasy Sports category downstream visits went to other sites in the Sports category. Is it possible that the 34 minutes per day "thinking" about fantasy sports is actually occurring online?

The online fantasy sports industry, with its high involvement levels and strong male demographic, is an important one to be aware of in considering online advertising opportunities. As mentioned above, fantasy sports players tend to discuss sports with colleagues, and with increasing attention paid to the influence of word of mouth, reaching those talkative men could be a good way to generate interest in your products.

More information about this topic and other online trends is available through LeeAnn Prescott's blog.

Hitwise is the world's leading online competitive intelligence service. Each day, Hitwise monitors how more than 25 million internet users interact with over 500,000 websites across 160 industry categories. By monitoring more people, more websites, more often, Hitwise provides marketers with timely and actionable marketing insights on how their online presence compares to competitive websites. Companies use this information to maximize the return on their online investment, in efforts such as search marketing, affiliate programs, online advertising, visitor segmentation, content development and lead generation. Hitwise collects internet usage information via a combination of ISP data partnerships and opt-in mega panels, and complies with local and international privacy legislation as audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers. Founded in 1997, Hitwise is a privately held company, headquartered in New York City and operates in the United States, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore.  More information about Hitwise is available at

LeeAnn Prescott is senior research analyst, Hitwise. Read full bio.