On crisp fall Sunday afternoons, many NFL fans are wrapped up in following football games-- on television and via mobile devices. Whether they watch in a sports bar or in their living room, they cheer loudly for the big plays. Suprisingly, some of the most focused watchers may not really care which team wins. They care about their own team − their fantasy football team. In addition, with the NBA season kicking off this week, last week was a busy time for fantasy basketball league drafts.
For the uninitiated, fantasy sports involves fans setting up competitive leagues and drafting real professional players for their teams. Points are scored based on the actual player’s performance on the field. The NFL has been quite supportive of the concept, often showing how various players rank for fantasy points for the day during TV broadcasts. Online sites manage the scoring live and most have mobile access. So you can check your phone and learn that a moment ago Adrian Peterson scored a 45 yard touchdown for your team.
So what does this have to do with lawyers? Well, many leagues offer cash prizes and fantasy sports had become a huge business. According to a report on NPR's All Tech Considered:
"The analysts at IBISWorld forecast fantasy sports will bring in $1.2 Billion in 2013, representing a threefold growth since 2004. The Fantasy Sports Trade Association says 33 million Americans take part in one fantasy sport or another — and 24 million of them play fantasy football."
With serious money involved, this fun hobby can take on some serious overtones. It is one thing if the losers have to buy a few rounds of drinks for the winners. It is another if 12 team owners enter a $1000 buy in league resulting in $12,000 in prize money to be distributed. At the point it might be wise to pay someone to manage the league and/or arbitrate disputes.
The Planet Money feature "Cashing In On The Fantasy-Sports Economy" lists a number of businesses that have grown up around fantasy sports, from buying insurance against your star player being injured to an individual who will serve as a judge on whether a late season trade is fair or should be overturned. One company, LeagueSafe, holds the stakes during the season and now has eight employees.
A lot of these new opportunities sound tailor-made for lawyers. We deal with equity and dispute resolution on a daily basis. If your league does become embroiled in litigation over prize money, would you rather have had a lawyer-arbitrator who made the contested decision or grocery store employee with several years of fantasy football experience? Most of these opportunities would arguably not generate what many lawyers would view as significant income. (The judge-for-hire featured in the story charges $14.95 for a ruling.)
But a growing industry with eight figure revenue means a lot of lawyers have made a lot of money and will make a lot of money. (The first presentation at the next Fantasy Sports Trade Association Conference is Legal Update.) A solo lawyer who loves fantasy sports and brings in a few extra dollars managing a few leagues and arbitrating in others might find it the most "fun" money he makes each year even if the return is closer to minimum wage than to a billable hour rate.
The point is this is an opportunity fueled by technology advances. The roots of fantasy sports involved getting the newspaper the next day and manually adding up your team's score. Few today would have the patience for that. (It is hard enough trying to be patient with Roddy White's nagging injury this season.) There will be many more new and exciting opportunities for lawyers. Stay alert.