August 27, 2015
The official kickoff for the 2015 NFL season is right around the corner, we’re burning through preseason, but right now it’s all about fantasy football drafts. Literally everybody’s doing it: all you need is a laptop, internet, and one of the many free platforms to schedule a synchronized, online draft.
Nowadays, it’s a piece of cake. It wasn’t always like that though.
In fact, there was a time when people used to draft and play fantasy football purely by hand – computers weren’t a thing and the internet didn’t exist. However, in a world where fantasy football was just a whisper of an idea, a group of founders sat down to innovate and create it.
Here’s a timeline of how it all went down, from 1962 to present day:
Wilfred Winkenbach, a limited partner in the Oakland Raiders franchise, met with Raiders PR lead Bill Tunnell and Oakland Tribune reporter Scotty Stirling in a New York hotel room. The crew decided to accompany the Raiders on a cross country matchup to the East Coast.
Together they laid out the foundational precepts of fantasy football as we know them today, rulebook and all. Their inaugural Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League (GOPPPL) was officially born in August 1963.
One of the original creators, Andy Mousalimas, brought fantasy football to his sports bar in Oakland, the King’s X. The word spread, but the game was slow to catch on because it was time consuming and scoring was difficult.
Despite a slow start, fantasy football did in fact keep moving forward and the first ever Ladies’ Division began at the King’s X.
It’s estimated that over 1 million people play fantasy football in the US.
The first publicly available, free fantasy football websites were officially presented to the internet. It caught on like wildfire and Yahoo decided to, unlike their competitors at the time, offer their platform free of charge.
It’s estimated that over 12 million people play fantasy football in the US, and they’re mostly playing on Yahoo.
It’s estimated that over 21 million people play fantasy football in the US, and Yahoo holds the majority of users.
How does this relate to entrepreneurship?
I think there’s an incredible amount of entrepreneurial knowledge we can get from examining the fantasy football timeline. In some ways I’d even argue that it’s a metaphor for starting up a company in general.
Let’s rewind for a moment, back to the beginning. Winkenbach, Tunnell, and Stirling can be viewed as an archetypal group of cofounders who weren’t afraid to bring an out of the box idea into the real world. Once that idea was in the world, alive and well, they kept it close to home and iterated new versions with small adjustments before ultimately packaging it for a ‘beta phase’.
Most notable during the beta phase is cofounder Mousalimas’ desire to engage with his users and hear their feedback about the system, the rules, and the future of fantasy football. You could also say that he’s working an organic, word of mouth marketing angle by spreading it around the King’s X.
Sure, it was slow to take root in the local community, but at the same time the team didn’t give up on their idea and shelf it. Granted, they weren’t in fantasy football for monetary gain but rather stuck with the concept because it was something they were incredibly passionate about. That level of dedication was widely responsible for growing the user base.
When the internet rose and personal computers entered the scene you could say, metaphorically speaking, that the company of fantasy football had been acquired by mainstream culture. Yahoo, then, had the foresight to recognize the benefits of a partnership with fantasy football trends: by offering a free platform they could essentially corner the market of online players.
Not to mention, fantasy football had pivoted somewhat and now played a crucial role as one of Yahoos prime marketing tools. It still fulfilled its original goal and purpose, but now there were millions of people signed up for Yahoo Fantasy Football, and they were logging onto the site every – single – day.
Today fantasy football has come so far as to dictate major tech trends in our daily lives. For example, we’re seeing multiple TV programs designed specifically to cater to fantasy footballers. Some have even gone so far as to say the future of football itself will be focused entirely on heavy integration with the fantasy football world.
The very history of fantasy football is your quintessential startup story, albeit a fairy tale one with a happy ending. Regardless, I think you could make the argument that it’s America’s oldest, slowest moving tech startup…maybe.
Image Credit: Sports on Earth / cropped, resized
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