The Evolution of Fantasy Sports: From Season-Long Leagues to Daily Fantasy

by | Oct 2, 2023

Welcome back to Smashup Fantasy Sports!

Fantasy sports have come a long way since their inception, transforming from a niche hobby into a global phenomenon. At Smashup Fantasy Sports, we’re not just passionate about the game; we’re fascinated by its evolution. Let’s take you on a journey through the history of fantasy sports, from the early days of season-long leagues to the rise of daily fantasy sports (DFS) and what the future holds for this exciting pastime.

The Humble Beginnings

Back in the 1950s, a California guy named Bill Winkenbach, who later became a part of the Oakland Raiders, came up with a cool idea: a fantasy golf game where you pick golf pros, and the one with the least strokes wins. He also had a baseball game where you draft hitters and pitchers, comparing their real stats. Sadly, these early attempts didn’t catch on.

In 1960, a sociologist named William Gamson created the Baseball Seminar league. People chose MLB players and looked at their final season stats. Gamson even played it with some folks, including a guy named Bob Sklar, who had a student named Daniel Okrent. Sklar told Okrent about the league.

The Birth of Season-Long Fantasy Sports

The big moment happened in 1962 when Winkenbach, along with Raiders PR guy Bill Tunnel and journalist Scotty Stirling, laid the groundwork for modern fantasy football during a Raiders trip. Their first league was called the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League (GOPPPL), and the first draft happened at Winkenbach’s Oakland house in 1963. Fantasy football took off in 1969 when a member named Andy Mousalimas started the first public league in his Oakland sports bar, the King’s X.

Fast forward to the 1980s, a group of journalists launched Rotisserie League Baseball in 1980. They met at a restaurant in New York City. Daniel Okrent was the brains behind the scoring system, and it became a hit. It took off quickly because it was created by sports journalists. They wrote about their own teams, especially during the 1981 MLB strike, and that’s how rotisserie baseball became a big thing.

The Growth of Rotisserie Leagues Among Die Hard (and Slightly Nerdy) Sports Fans

In the 1980s, a bunch of journalists got together and created something special: Rotisserie League Baseball in 1980. They named it after a cool New York City spot, La Rotisserie Fran├žaise, where they chowed down and played the game.

The man behind the scenes was magazine writer-editor Daniel Okrent. He’s the one who brought the idea of the rotisserie league to the gang and came up with the scoring system. Here’s how it worked: Players in this Rotisserie League drafted teams of active MLB players and kept tabs on their stats during the season to tally their scores. No peeking at the stats from previous seasons; you had to predict the upcoming season’s stats.

They nicknamed it “roto” and despite the tough task of keeping stats by hand, it caught on. Why? Well, Okrent says it’s because the league was started by sports journalists. In his words, “most of us in the league were in the media, and we got a lot of press coverage that first season. The second season, there were rotisserie leagues in every Major League press box.” It really blew up, especially during the 1981 MLB strike when sportswriters had nothing else to write about. They started sharing stories about the teams they’d built in their leagues, and that’s how rotisserie baseball became a hit.

Explosive Growth with the Rise of the Internet

In the 1990s, the internet changed the game for fantasy sports. People from all walks of life started playing because the web made it super easy to get stats. No more hunting for scores in newspapers or keeping track of numbers on paper.

In 1995, ESPN went all-in with the first internet-based fantasy baseball game. Other big names in sports and entertainment soon jumped on the bandwagon. That same year, Molson Breweries launched a fantasy hockey website as part of their “I am Online” campaign, mixing music, entertainment, and hockey. You could join leagues and get NHL stats right there.

CBS Sports hopped on the fantasy football train in 1997, and RotoWire, a fantasy news site, came to life. Yahoo shook things up in 1999 by offering free fantasy football, leaving others in the dust. The creators of Fantasy Football Weekly launched Fanball.com, but smaller sites started charging for their products as Yahoo took over. CBS also switched back to a paid model in 2002.

In 1998, a trade group called the Fantasy Sports Trade Association was born, now known as the Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association (FSGA). By 2003, they estimated 15.2 million fantasy players in the US and Canada.

In the early 2000s, fantasy sports went big time. The NFL found that fantasy players watched even more football than the average fan. So, they went all-in on fantasy, making it a big deal on their website and even featuring players in TV ads. Before, the big sports leagues were iffy about fantasy, but they realized it made fans even more obsessed with the games.

The Daily Fantasy Sports Boom

Daily fantasy sports are like turbo-charged versions of the classic fantasy format. Instead of a full season, they last a week or even just a single day. You typically pay to enter, and part of that fee builds a prize pot that goes to the winners.

Back in June 2007, Fantasy Sports Live was one of the first daily fantasy sites to kick off. NBC followed suit in November 2008 with SnapDraft, and FanDuel started in 2009, branching off from a Scottish prediction market company. DraftKings joined the game in 2012.

With investments from venture capitalists, including big names like MLB and the NBA, DraftKings and FanDuel revved up their marketing engines before the 2015 NFL season. They were everywhere, with ads popping up on national TV every 90 seconds. They also struck sponsorship deals with various leagues and teams, including the NHL and multiple NFL teams.

The legality of daily fantasy sports was a bit fuzzy at first, as some saw them more as sports betting than classic fantasy. But after the 2018 Supreme Court decision in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association allowed states to legalize sports betting, the doubts about daily fantasy sports’ legality were largely settled.

By May 2023, while 33 US states had given the green light to sports betting, 45 states were on board with daily fantasy sports. DraftKings and FanDuel were running daily fantasy contests in 44 states each, with only Montana putting the brakes on online fantasy sports. And with traditional sportsbooks gaining popularity, other sites such as Underdog, Thrive, Sleeper, and PrizePricks created their own offerings.

SmashUp Fantasy Sports: Embracing the Evolution

And now in 2023, we are proud to launch SmashUp Fantasy Sports. At SmashUp we’re committed to embracing the evolution of fantasy sports. We are committed to breaking the boundaries of traditional fantasy games and offering new and innovative ways for fans to have more control over their fantasy teams and to feel more connected and engaged with their favorite sports, teams, and players.

We are starting with our first offering featuring our patented SmashCards, which allow players to use these forms of powerup cards to impact the scoring and supercharge their teams or throw obstacles in the way of the competition. We are creating a community of die hard fans ready to embrace the next generation of fantasy sports.

Join us on this fantastic journey nd let’s make history together at SmashUp Fantasy Sports.