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They are part of a fantasy world no longer. Australian fantasy football fans are the code’s most highly desirable consumers bringing real benefits to the sport and the league, Deakin University researchers have found.
The research by Associate Professor Heath McDonald from the University’s Graduate School of Management and Adam Karg from the University’s School of Management and Marketing is the first of its kind to explore the growing phenomena and its fans in Australia.
“Fantasy sport is a large industry, particularly in the US where it contributes up to $5 billion a year to the American economy and the numbers of people participating in it grows by 7-10 per cent each year,” Associate Professor McDonald explained.
“Australian fantasy sport though, is in its infancy.
“The Australian Football League promotes one of the two major national fantasy sport competitions; however it does not directly make money from fantasy sport participants.”
“The question for sports administrators therefore is whether they should continue to encourage fantasy sport as there have been arguments that it competes for fans’ limited leisure time and may detract from the sport rather than benefit it.”
Associate Professor McDonald said surprisingly there was little research which looked at the fantasy sports fans themselves as well as the impacts fantasy sport participation had on the live game.
“Even the basic information on who is playing fantasy sport, how often and why remains unclear,” he said. “Our research helps to address this.”
Associate Professor McDonald said the Australian research had shown that AFL consumers were highly engaged with fantasy sport with 19 per cent of AFL fans currently playing some form of AFL fantasy sport.
“While initially, AFL fantasy sport consumers were naturally those more interested in the sport (i.e., those for whom AFL was their favourite sport), later adopters are shown to come heavily from consumer groups for which AFL is a secondary sport interest or outside their top three sports, providing an avenue to engage wider segments of the sporting marketplace,” he said.
“Fantasy sport players are primarily young (over three quarters are under 35), male (74 percent) and 22 percent are current members of AFL clubs.
“Over half of the fantasy sport playing population comes from Victoria but significant consumption of fantasy sport exists in developing markets in Queensland and New South Wales.”
Associate Professor McDonald said fantasy sport players went to more live games, watched more games on television and as a result of gathering AFL information on line, used the internet more than non-fantasy players.
“Interestingly, this activity extended beyond their supported team the effect of which leads to higher and wider forms of league engagement and consumption,” he said.
Associate Professor McDonald said the results also showed that over the longer term fantasy sport did not cannibalise the consumption of sport by highly committed fans because they developed into highly engaged fantasy players.
“Rather, anecdotal evidence found in Australia, similar to North American studies, suggests that fantasy sport is playing a positive role in changing the attitudes, perceptions and consumption behaviour of its players,” he said.
“Despite discussion of links between fantasy sport and gambling in other markets, playing fantasy sport has not been shown to increase gambling levels of Australian sport consumers.
“The question does come up though as to why fantasy football is so compelling?
“Players said the key motivations and experiences from fantasy sport play included entertainment, education, social and integrative benefits and a sense of escape.”
Associate Professor McDonald said while half of players indicated they spent an average of one hour or more managing their fantasy team a week, over 20% spent more than two hours undertaking fantasy sport related activities per week.
“While our preliminary results point to work and other forms of media being the major sacrifices, consumption of other sports is also impacted,” he said.
“In that sense, sporting associations that encourage fans to take up fantasy sport may find it is a good defence against other codes.”
Associate Professor McDonald said the taste for virtual sport consumption would continue to develop, with Australian fantasy sport consumers having expectations of more sophisticated and customised game options and competition parameters to evolve in coming years.
“This would suggest that the better developed overseas versions of fantasy games are influencing the demands and preferences of local fantasy sport consumers,” he said.
Adam J. Karg and Heath McDonald - Fantasy sport participation as a complement to traditional sport consumption, forthcoming, Sport Management Review 2011.
*Fantasy sport involves the selection and maintenance of fictional, or fantasy, teams made up of a selection of players from a particular sport league. Competitions are generally administered through an online or Internet medium. Fantasy sport leagues allow participants to select teams of players drawn from all professional rosters and to have their fictional teams compete against other fictional teams.