"To hell with fantasy. I'm about what's real!"
Those were the words that came out of my mouth when the editor in chief of The Mag told me he was curious why so few black people play fantasy sports. And oh, by the way, he wanted me to do some research and write a column on it.
Fine, boss, you got it.
According to a study by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, approximately 93% of armchair general managers are white. "I don't know why that is, and it's something I hesitate to speculate about," the FSTA's manager, Justin Cleveland, told me.
Next I dial up ESPN's senior director of fantasy sports, Matthew Berry, a.k.a. the Talented Mr. Roto. "When you figure out the reason," he says, "please let me know." Will do.
But honestly, I'm not surprised to learn that so few blacks are among the 30 million people who participate in fantasy sports. I've always thought that a lot of these guys (and 96% of them are guys) are nerds desperately in need of more sociable leisure-time activities. Leisure time for black folks historically consists of direct interaction, the kind of experience you get at a family barbecue or hanging out with friends. Sitting in front of a computer screen pretending to be Bill Parcells? Sounds like work to me.
FSTA research shows that only 1.6% of fantasy players are black, 2.3% are Latino and 1.1% are Asian. And the more I learn about the typical fantasy player, the more I think most minorities simply have better things to do. "The people who play fantasy are more into sports, more hard-core than the average fan," Berry says. "The reason the NFL embraced fantasy in such a big way is that it found that fantasy players watch three hours more football a week than the average football fan."
In searching for an Actual Black Person who plays fantasy sports, I wind up talking to noted comedian Guy Torry, who's got a famous bit called "Learning From White Folks." Turns out I stumbled onto the biggest black fantasy football fan of all time. "Who the f are you calling a nerd?" he screams at me. "Nobody loves fantasy more than me." The laugh as an exclamation point never arrives. Damn, this brother's serious. "Man, you don't know the half," he says.
All those hours people spend as Monday-morning QBs, quick to second-guess, acting like they're the ones playing, coaching or trading? Sorry, it still seems nerdy to me.
At least until Torry breaks it down: "What cat do you know who loves sports and hasn't played Monday-morning quarterback? It's all of us, man. Me. Snoop Dogg. Regina King. Lil Wayne." Torry makes one especially valid point: The hip-hop connection is a perfect way to market fantasy sports to a younger black demographic. "It's that sports ego, man," he says. "It's you, chillin' on the block with your boys, arguing over a player, a coach's decision or some move a GM made, and saying, 'This is what I would've done.' And now you say, 'All right, join the fantasy league. Let's see what you've got!' Since I joined fantasy, I've never loved the NFL as much as I love it now." I'm guessing Roger Goodell won't mind hearing that.
Of all the opinions I collected on the racial disparity, though, one of the most interesting came from Kim Beason, an associate professor at Ole Miss who is also the CEO of Fantasy Sport Research Specialists. Basically, Beason's six years of research shows that people who have well-paying jobs with fast Internet connections are more likely to play fantasy sports. "When you break it down, it appears the disparity has to do with a critical mass of individuals who are together discussing fantasy sports," he tells me. "Up to now, that has mostly occurred in the white workplace. And a lot of time, it's on the Internet." But as the web grows, this potential audience is becoming more diverse, which makes Matt Berry a happy man.
"Fantasy sports players consume the most media," he says. "And the demographic—males, mid-30s, college-educated, income of $75,000, who have high-speed Internet—is a real sweet spot for advertisers." Which makes it great for my employers, too. Hey, boss, did I tell you I'm sorry? And that I love ya?