- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Turn to ESPN or some other sports-related outlet, any time of day. Doesn’t matter whether it’s TV or radio. Just wait for the next commercial break.
If there isn’t a spot for DraftKings or FanDuel, you’re guaranteed to see one the next time. Bet on it.

The rise of daily fantasy sports has led to a surge of hourly broadcast ads. And, if you’ve somehow, miraculously never seen one, here’s their message: You, too, can win $1 million! It’s easy!

Now excuse me while I go take a shower.

What began as a quaint activity between office workers, family and friends has morphed into an insidious industry that seduced and climbed in bed with corporate America. The NFL doesn’t quite fit the definition of daily fantasy sports, not with its one-week-at-a-time IV-drip of action. But The Shield is poised to domineer DFS, like every other subject in its royal sports kingdom.

At the risk of sounding like an unrepentant moralist with a paternalistic mentality, I’m concerned about the spike in people who view fantasy sports as a get-rich-quick scheme. Methinks those who prosper the most will be the leagues, teams, media companies and other investors that pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into DraftKings and FanDuel.

Those entities are looking for fat returns on investments. They’ll be reaped on the backs of ordinary Joes and Janes, filling out lineups like lottery tickets.

This isn’t fantasy sports as I remember it. Back in the early ‘80s, I partook in leagues with co-workers in the USA Today sports department. Yours truly even hoisted trophies after winning championships in the NFL and NBA, though my baseball team, “Arms & Hammers,” never finished first.

It was great for fun, camraderie, competition and trash talk.

I don’t remember the cash prize that accompanied titles, but it wasn’t much, certainly unlike pots in the NFL Suicide Pool I later ran for the department (which since have grown to $10,000-plus and won’t be discussed ever again).

The money in fantasy was just a little something-something to make it interesting, like NCAA tournament pools or Super Bowl squares.

Contrast that to the DraftKings ad featuring anxious men in agony, watching a game that obviously features someone on their team. We don’t see what happens — the kick was good, the touchdown was scored, the turnover was created, whatever — but the reaction is universal. Arms raised, fists pumped, backs slapped, etc.

“This is the feeling of turning a game you love into a lifetime of cash,” says the voiceover. “This is what it looks like when real people win a million dollars playing fantasy football.”

Please. DFS is what it looks like when sports, gambling and instant gratification have a three-way on the Internet.

According to the latest figures the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, 56.8 million people across North America — 34 percent of whom are women — now play fantasy sports. That’s up from 41.5 million a year ago.

But the industry’s fastest growing segment is DFS, which has become a multibillion-dollar slice of the pie while comprising just 12 percent of the total fantasy pool. The trade association estimates that the number of daily players has more than tripled over the past year. The rapid, massive growth — with room for much more — is why investors have hopped aboard and the airwaves have been inundated.

According to iSpot.tv, DraftKings has spent $86.2 million on TV ads since Jan. 1; that’s more than quadruple the $20.9 million that Kantar Media reports the company spent in 2014. As for FanDuel, iSpot.tv reports it has spent $23.8 million this year.

It’s no wonder when you consider the dollars at stake. The Orange County Register reported that Eilers Research estimated that the total sports handle in Las Vegas during the NFL’s opening weekend will be between $25 million and $30 million.

FanDuel and DraftKings are expected to top $60 million in Week 1.

While the NFL turns up its nose at illegal gambling, 15 teams have signed multi-year sponsorship agreements with FanDuel, and teams are doing everything they can to appease fantasy players with enhanced in-stadium features to help them keep track. FedEx Field has a FanDuel Lounge, and it’s only a matter of time before stadiums are outfitted with in-seat monitors tuned to NFL RedZone.

If this wasn’t such an addictive form of “entertainment” that threatens to ruin countless lives and families, I’d be all for it with no reservations.

I guess it shouldn’t bother me because adults are supposed to be responsible for their actions and we don’t want a nanny-state telling us what to do. That’s true, too.

But excuse me while I go take a shower.

The promise of easy millions has a dirty feel to it.

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