Fantasy Football, a Billion Dollar Industry, HUGE in Hollywood!

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Fantasy football has Hollywood hooked.

In the new cover story hitting newsstands today, “What Fantasy Football Means To Hollywood,” The Hollywood Reporter delves into the phenomenon that counts Paul Rudd, Ashton Kutcher, Demi Moore, and Entourage co-star Jerry Ferrara (to name just a few) among its addicts, serves as the central motif of FX hit show The League, and is estimated to drive between $600 million and $1 billion of revenue this year alone. The fantasy sensation is even helping fuel NFL TV ratings to record highs.

Rudd graces the THR cover alongside San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, who again should be the highest-drafted tight end among fantasy enthusiasts this year. Gates says thanks to fantasy football his celebrity has grown far beyond his hometown, “When I’m outside of California, people recognize the name just through fantasy football, and it’s flattering.”

“It’s a sickness,” leading man Paul Rudd, who played a fantasy sports-obsessed dad in Knocked Up, reveals to The Hollywood Reporter. Rudd goes on to reveal to THR that even though his love for the game is admittedly “super nerdy,” the star of the upcoming Weinstein Co. movie Our Idiot Brother gets the feeling that he is not alone.

Rudd is right. Entourage’s Jerry Ferrara, who plays Turtle on HBO’s hit show, says that when it comes to fantasy football, he’s a total “junkie.” Ferrara also tells THR that, in his books, “if you don’t do it, I lose 10% of my respect for you right off the bat.” Talk about peer pressure! Ferrara goes on to speak about his fantasy team’s need to win, “It will be an awful start to 2012 if I’m not in the playoffs.”

Considering the wild-fire spread of fantasy sporting, it’s no wonder. THR’s story tracks America’s fastest-growing national pastime from an ad hoc league formed by an Oakland Raiders limited partner in a bar in 1962 to its present status as a billion-dollar industry that counts more than 30 million North American fans and enjoys double-digit annual growth despite the hard economic times. Take in this statistic, 19% of all US men have played the game.

“Our industry had never been in a recession,” Paul Charcharian, president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, tells THR. “We’ve proved very resilient. And since the [NFL] lockout ended, it’s been a flood.”

Beyond even the A-list “addicts” (whose participation, doesn’t exactly hurt fantasy football’s publicity efforts), the THR story shows how heavyweights like Fox, ABC, CBS, ESPN, DirecTV, and the NFL itself have begun to rely on fantasy football to bolster TV sports ratings and increase—or skyrocket—online engagement.

The story also details how fantasy football’s own network spinoff, FX’s The League, came into existence during husband-and-wife creative duo Jeff Schaffer and Jackie Marcus Schaffer’s ski trip. The couple tells THR that the idea sprang to life after Jeff excused himself from the table at a fancy restaurant, saying he was having stomach pains. When Jackie found him outside on the phone—checking scores and results for his fantasy football teams—she burst out laughing, saying, “This is a great idea for a show.”

John Hansen has an entire radio show devoted to fantasy football. The SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio Host offers THR readers his best game advice and talks about his Hollywood following. Meat Loaf is one famous follower who confessed to Hansen that he would rather win a fantasy championship than another Grammy.

The THR cover story explores another kind of fantasy football spinoff. Celebrity fantasy leagues like Fafarazzi, Celebrifantasy, Picktainment, and Boxofficefantasy.com that let users create “teams” of A-listers to star in would-be TV shows, create movie season line-ups, or rack up celebrity publicity points. Like its football progenitors, fans tell THR that Hollywood fantasy leagues are much more than a game.

Paul M. Banks is CEO of The Sports Bank.net, an official Google News site that generates millions of unique visitors. He’s also a regular contributor to Chicago Now, Walter Football.com, Yardbarker, and Fox Sports 

He does regular weekly radio spots in Chicago and Cleveland and has appeared on live shows all across the world from Houston to New Zealand. You can follow him on Twitter

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