The popularization of fantasy sports

Since the popularization of fantasy sports in the 1980s, media organizations have consistently played a significant role in the growth of the games. The prefix roto-, found in RotoGrinders and a number of other fantasy-focused businesses, originated with the advent of the season-long rotisserie baseball league. Daniel Okrent, the journalist who invented the format, and his friends launced their first league over lunch at the now-closed La Rotisserie Française. Their draft took place just before the start of the 1980 Major League Baseball season, and Philadelphia Phillies third baseman Mike Schmidt was picked first overall (a good pick, too: Schmidt had an MVP season and led the Phillies to their first World Series title).

“Roto” baseball took off in part because Okrent — who went on to become the first public editor of the New York Times — along with his fellow team-manager buddies, worked in journalism. “The second season, there were Rotisserie leagues in every Major League press box,” Okrent told Vanity Fair in 2008. “In 1981 there was a players’ strike, and the writers who were covering baseball had nothing to write about, so they began writing about the teams they had assembled in their own leagues.”

In 1995, ESPN began offering a fantasy sports platform on its website, followed by CBS Sports in 1997 and the upstart, which CBS then bought outright for $31 million in 2001. Yahoo changed the game in 1999 when it began hosting free fantasy leagues, relying on ad revenue rather than user fees. And with the rise of fantasy sports came news specifically catering to its players. RotoNews — now RotoWire — launched in 1997 and quickly became one of the most visited sports websites.

Fantasy sports fans in 2000 draft their teams, before the rise of DFS.

Now practically every sports media organization, from mainstream to niche, has some involvement with fantasy sports (including Vox Media’s SB Nation). They provide player-by-player insights and statistical analysis through TV shows, podcasts, articles, and databases, and fantasy managers rely on this information to make educated decisions about drafting and maintaining their teams.

DFS, which first appeared in 2007, bridged the world of traditional friend-group fantasy with what we’re seeing now: a burgeoning sports-betting market gradually sweeping through the United States.

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