Fantasy sports today is a billion dollar industry with presence in all countries. The evolution of the internet is also one of the reason for penetration of fantasy sports to the masses. But fantasy sports is prevalent even before wide spread adoption of internet devices. The evolution can be traced to as back as the 1950s.
There are several individuals and companies who patronised the format in the initial days and played a significant role in popularizing and establishing the concept. Here are some notable names:
- Daniel Okrent: Considered the “Father of Fantasy Sports,” Daniel Okrent created the first modern fantasy baseball league in 1980. His league, which was named the Rotisserie League Baseball, served as the foundation for the fantasy sports phenomenon.
- Wilfred “Bill” Winkenbach: Along with a group of friends, Winkenbach developed the first fantasy football league developed the first fantasy football league in 1962. Known as the Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League (GOPPPL), it laid the groundwork for fantasy football’s future growth.
- Rotisserie Baseball Magazine: This publication, launched in 1980 by Glen Waggoner and Tom Nicely, helped popularize the Rotisserie League Baseball format and provided resources, strategies, and player statistics to fantasy baseball enthusiasts. According to Britannica, Rotisserie baseball season begins with a player draft (sometimes done as an auction), with each team in the league selecting 23–27 players (with set quotas at each position) from major league rosters. The statistics that these players accumulate over the course of a season determine the winner of the rotisserie league.
- ESPN: The sports media giant ESPN played a crucial role in promoting and expanding the fantasy sports industry. In the mid-1990s, ESPN launched its Fantasy Games platform, offering various fantasy sports options to its audience and significantly increasing the reach and popularity of fantasy sports. In India too, it was reported that ESPN was contemplating to launch a fantasy portal.
- Yahoo!: Yahoo! Sports was one of the first online platforms to offer free fantasy sports games, starting with fantasy baseball in 1999. It became a dominant player in the industry and helped introduce fantasy sports to a broader audience.
- CBS Sports: CBS Sports also played a significant role in popularizing fantasy sports in the West. They launched their fantasy sports platform in 1997, offering various leagues and formats to cater to different sports enthusiasts
These individuals, along with companies like ESPN, Yahoo!, and CBS Sports, were instrumental in pioneering and popularizing fantasy sports, leading to its widespread adoption and subsequent growth in the industry.