If you’re a longtime hockey fan, you might be worried about the recent popularity of fantasy hockey. Do people care about this activity more than the sport itself?
For more than 30 years, people have been competing against each other by creating imaginary teams made up of real National Hockey League (NHL) players. But the internet has turned this amusing pastime into an intense, daily hobby for many fans.
Yahoo Sports, which is just one organization that offers such fantasy contests, runs an imaginary hockey league with 550,000 participants. And on ESPN.com, you can find fantasy hockey rankings for an NFL season before the previous season has even ended.
In a way, fantasy hockey can help the sport. Most likely, it’ll keep driving up the ratings for TV hockey games just as fantasy football has been doing for football games. That’s because many fantasy competitors want to watch as many games as possible. After all, their rosters are made up of players from various teams.
As hockey ratings rise, so do advertising fees and merchandise sales. With greater profits, it’s more probable that the sport will still be going strong decades from now. It’s no wonder that the NHL has invested in DraftKings, a leading fantasy sports company.
On the other hand, fantasy hockey can have unwelcome repercussions. A higher rate of gambling is one. You don’t have to gamble to play fantasy sports, but many people do. And it can be highly addictive.
Fantasy hockey also takes some of the camaraderie, purity and innocence out of following hockey. Before online fantasy leagues existed, when you watched a game on TV with friends, you could bond by cheering together for the home team. When you sat in the stands with strangers, you probably felt united with them. It was ennobling.
Now, though, many people just root for their imaginary teams. They want money or bragging rights. They’re not necessarily cheering for the same outcome as everyone around them; they’re often focusing on how this person or that person is doing. They might even be hoping that the home team loses.
At this point, fantasy hockey seems like it’s here to stay. Of course, if you don’t play, you can still get together with others who don’t have a fantasy team and watch games just like you always did. And if you do start playing, maybe you’ll watch more hockey than ever before, which doesn’t sound so bad.
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