Communities of Practice, Media Dependency, and Surveillance: A Virtual Search for Supremacy in Fantasy Football

by Travis R. BellAlexander W. Morales, and Jaime Robb


Technology has re-defined fantasy football as a mediated participatory culture fueled by three foundational concepts: community, information, and surveillance. This article explores how technology has shifted the focus of fantasy football participation from its origins in community to an obsession with competition driven by capital and a desire for supremacy. The Internet affords a symbolic construction of community that involves public discussion, human interaction, and relationships, and fantasy football communities were some of the first to navigate this space. The merger of virtual solidarity and real football allows us to understand these spaces as mediated and negotiated fantasy communities of practice. The technical expansion and creation of mediated information constructs an implicit bridge between the fantasy realm and the everyday through participation that shifts from the original social aspect afforded by community to improving self-esteem through fantasy achievement. This constant form of engagement results in media-system dependency that fuels the economic engine of media corporations who are competing for an audience. We view the issue of surveillance through panoptic and synoptic lenses to examine the constructed space of community and mediated information. Specifically, how information is accessed and shared raises questions about surveillance and the dynamics of power produced by and through fantasy football where curating information through virtual enclosures represents a power function in a new platform that exists in the chaos of the Internet where information is growing exponentially. Participants are often drawn to fantasy football for the communal pleasure that it offers, but deeper involvement can lead to a desire for domination. Therefore, fantasy football is now a participatory culture moderated through communities of practice, controlled by mediated information, and monitored through surveillance, both within and across respective communities, as well as by media entities in search of new forms of revenue.

Keywords: Communication; Media; Sociology; Fantasy Football; Technology


<1> Technology has re-defined fantasy football as a mediated participatory culture (McCarthy 422). No longer limited by geographic, technological, or other spatial boundaries, fantasy football players partake in daily and weekly rituals that stretch weeks and months before and after the National Football League (NFL) season. These regimented access points to sport have shifted the various processes of fandom (Amenta and Miric 311). Fantasy football alters perception, interest, participation, and consumption of sport in myriad ways. For example, fan allegiance might begin to shift from a real team (e.g., Chicago Bears) to a team and player previously perceived as their rival (e.g., Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers) simply through fantasy football “ownership” (Spinda and Havard 74). Even if they are not actual fans of the NFL, through fantasy football, players often take part due to friendship or other communal motivations. This newfound participation raises interest, often fueled by competition, which results in a rapid increase in the consumption of fantasy football, and technology is the driving force behind this rapid evolution.

<2> The mediated participatory culture outlined in this article is fueled by three foundational concepts: community, information, and surveillance. Community led to the genesis of fantasy sport, which developed from board games in the 1950s and 1960s (McGuire, Armfield, and Boone 277). Two journalists and a partial owner of the Oakland Raiders are credited with creating the first fantasy football league in 1962 (Anderson and Bowman 5). The popularity of fantasy sport grew first through rotisserie baseball in the 1980s and then spread to other professional sports leagues. Information in the form of computer-mediated data sparked the rise of fantasy sport into a billion-dollar industry (Farquhar and Meeds 1209) and created a level of dependency on this information motived by a participant’s self-esteem and desire for control (McGuire, Armfield, and Boon 277-278). This influx of participation and research resulted in increased consumption, which gave rise to technological surveillance. Research indicates increased surveillance by participants of the real players they “own” and of their league opponents to gauge levels of competition and sports knowledge (Billings and Ruihley 18). This article discusses that form of personal surveillance, but focuses more on an added layer of surveillance by companies that construct the online fantasy space and utilize user data to capitalize economically on this influx of participation. In this way, we argue, a power dynamic infiltrated fantasy football for consumers and content creators. When combined, the desire for community and information results in significant increases in time devoted to fantasy football participation (McLean and Wainwright 61) and a rise in mediated participation and production. This article builds upon the literature regarding fantasy football through investigating the intersection of community, information, and surveillance. We are particularly interested in how technology has shifted the focus of fantasy football participation from its origins in community to an obsession with competition driven by capital and a desire for supremacy.

<3> In this article, we explore these three primary foundations (community, information, surveillance) to explain technology’s influence on fantasy sports. First, the philosophical and symbolic concept of community is outlined. Specifically, we argue that the way interactions unfold on most fantasy sports websites shape a form of participation that falls in line with Jean Lave and Etienne Wenger’s notion of “communities of practice” (65), which Wenger later expands to include virtual space (7). This mediated form of interaction operates by situating patterns for engagement that allow users to feel in control of the ways they participate. Second, we maintain that the technical expansion and creation of mediated information constructs an implicit bridge between the fantasy realm and the everyday through participation, which requires research of “real” player’s statistical information in virtual spaces. This constant form of engagement results in media-system dependency. Finally, we view the issue of surveillance through panoptic and synoptic lenses to examine the constructed space of community and mediated information. Specifically, how information is accessed and shared raises questions about surveillance and the dynamics of power produced by and through fantasy football.

<4> In an age in which fantasy football participants have access to unprecedented levels of information, the desire for that information has developed into a cause of anxiety. The problem has become one of attention and dependency. How do we negotiate the overwhelming, exponentially growing amount of information that surges through online databases? The challenge is not one of content, but rather of curation. Fantasy football presents an opportunity to explore this process. It allows scholars to investigate how participants navigate digitally mediated spaces that create conducive conditions to the needs of the user and the capitalistic desires of media corporations through surveillance. In concluding this essay, we offer projections concerning the future of mediated information technologies and their continual evolution in the context of fantasy football.

Symbolic Construction of Community

<5> What does it mean to be a member of a community? Community can be a complex concept. For this article, it will be understood as a gathering place situated by common interests and voluntary entry. The place of gathering can be a physical or virtual space that is defined by the perception of boundaries (Cohen 12-13). Sports fans tend to have some sense for what constitutes a feeling of belonging when engaged in collective action grounded in notions of community. Belonging in the arena of sports is often related to fans feeling that they play a significant role in sustaining a competitive environment. This speaks to the principles of hierarchy that Kenneth Burke understood as the backbone of group life (24). To investigate how participation unfolds in such competitive environments, we borrow the language of Anthony Cohen who argues that “people construct community symbolically” (118) to situate the virtual coming together in an ongoing conversation of power and access. The ambiguities surrounding the Internet as a social meeting place provide ammunition for critical questions related to space itself as a rhetorical device and how that space regulates the functioning of media power. Fan communities are built around the same types of connections that are at work when supporting a favorite team. Clear lines of division offer identifiable boundaries for how to belong.

<6> The Internet affords a symbolic construction of community that involves public discussion, human interaction, and relationships (Rheingold xix). The use of the Internet by sports fans who seek solidarity conforms to a pattern of engagement that, historically, has been a product of connecting via “weak ties.” This term refers to the limited nature of commonalities that individuals share within a group, where the connection among members used to sustain group life only needs one or two points of agreement (Granovetter 1360). Weak ties increase quickly in communities involving high levels of Internet usage (Kavanaugh et al. 122). For online sports fans, they need only their passion for the game to form a bond with fellow Internet users. Online fantasy football groups operate with a wide range of characteristics in terms of design, function, and overall use, but the language of community allows for the highlighting of purposes that relate to a philosophy of sense-making in small group settings. By factoring in how weak ties, through competition and gambling, enhance the participation for the user, the question becomes what is powerful enough to bring groups of strangers and friends together annually to compete in what seems to be an enactment of community?

<7> Think about how people found each other online before Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Users gathered in virtual communities long before the mass-produced versions previously mentioned (Armstrong and Hagel III 88), and fantasy football communities were some of the first. It is easy to overlook how such gatherings are a structured accomplishment, where the rituals and traditions are a by-product of the way members participate and act as the glue for collective identity. In this sense, it is important to investigate how ritualized fantasy participation is affected by the design of the virtual space. Specifically, media sites like Yahoo!, ESPN, and CBS Sports create the platform for participation while also providing the data that users rely upon to make decisions in a competitive community. Samuel Wilson and Leighton Peterson raised concerns over these spaces and the need to understand “the often elusive and ambiguous construction of individual and collective identities mediated by those technologies” (451). Additionally, the interfaces for most fantasy sites offer a means of participation that is simple enough to repeat for any new user. The virtual space provides the toolkit for user engagement and participation. Today, most fantasy communities are structured and function with similar rules and restrictions, which allows for a user-friendly product. As witnessed after the Industrial Revolution, the implementation of capitalist management strategies tends to effectively reshape the reasons and ways people gather, as capital becomes central to the mechanism of gathering.

Fantasy Communities of Practice

<8> To speak of community through location or frequency of visits in physical presence limits the notion of community sought to achieve a sense of comfort through solidarity. These types of groups tend to help define individuals within a unique set of identity performances that are safe from the chaos of day-to-day life. Such escape can be achieved through collective understanding and, in the case of fantasy football, collective competition to engage with strangers or friends instantly twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Thus, the weak ties bring online users together through communication to formulate community involvement (Kavanaugh et al. 123). When incorporated with the ritualization that occurs once relationships form, these weak ties are a form of what Lave and Wenger label “communities of practice,” which situate how members of the community learn but also govern participation through shared understanding and meaning (98). Wenger expands these ideas to the virtual space that now contains and controls fantasy football. The merger of virtual solidarity and real football allows us to understand these spaces as mediated and negotiated “communities of practice” (Wenger 85).

<9> These digital communities produce a type of social gathering that allows purposes to collide and re-shape realities through a shared spirit for competition. As such, the search for solidarity and supremacy is important within fantasy football culture, which fosters an elevated sense of shared purpose. As participation in fantasy football increases along with media willingness to embrace this growth, information has become the foundation of the fantasy football world. This virtual access point allows fantasy football users to feel like they are in control of a competition that functions similarly to that of wagering. The plethora of information in the fantasy marketplace has provoked further questions as to where community stops and social gambling commences. Social gambling refers to wagering among friends that occurs outside of a designated, legal space, such as a casino or bingo hall. Social gambling can influence community through economics, politics, and consumer behaviors (Nelson et al. 280). The consumption of information pushes gambling from a complementary role of watching sports into an influential one (Paul and Weinbach 137). The opportunity to win money shifts the emotional connection and level of participation within the community (Mahan III, Drayer, and Sparvero 168). From daily fantasy leagues that are temporary gathering places designed primarily for gambling, to more traditional leagues that involve close groups of friends, or those where the user pays to play with a group of strangers, each constitute some sentiment of community. However, only one has a purpose of solidarity somewhere in its design. Within the context of this article, the focus, therefore, is on leagues that are renewed annually and that maintain a core group of users. These leagues involve participants who compete together in a shared community, or, what we term, a fantasy community of practice.

<10> Fantasy communities of practice have embraced the Internet as a space for solidarity. These virtual meeting places (Yahoo!, for example) represent a constant negotiation of power through ritualized judgments, which ask users to form virtual identities as members of a group governed by competition via a hierarchy that is staged as a search for supremacy. Individual members embrace the virtual fan gathering as a leveraging of power based on their ability to negotiate changes among the group’s hierarchy. The overall collective supports the nature of organized powers where space and content design are controlled from the top. The hegemonic rhetoric is implicitly layered in the way fans communicate with each other as they operate under a collective understanding within this surveilled digital space. A more pronounced form of group authorship is needed to achieve shared meaning in this space (Warnick 35). This type of active participation in the virtual fantasy culture asks fans to consume abundant information related to their fantasy community if they want to remain competitive, which helps them feel in control. The idea is that the person who can obtain the most pertinent information tends to win. What results is a centralized space for creating fantasy communities of practice that are pressed upon by the larger media community that relies on this meeting place to disseminate information to turn a profit.

Information and Media-System Dependency

<11> As previously discussed, communities of practice are often self-governed by participants working toward a shared meaning of how a community operates within its own hierarchical structure. Fantasy communities of practice function in similar ways, but the virtual space offers new forms of governance, oversight, and information distribution. To understand the digital version of fantasy football, we must turn our attention to the technical expansion and creation of mediated information as a bridge between the virtual world of fantasy football and the real world of live, on-the-field games and how that bridge influences participation in communal spaces. Fantasy participants’ sense of control is predicated on their ability to gather information in the virtual space derived from news sources, both online and legacy, who are competing for an audience. Therefore, it is necessary to investigate how computer-mediated information is created and consumed to situate this relationship between information and participants as one of media dependency in regard to how fantasy football websites create content to meet a user’s needs (Ndonye, Kemunto, and Machini 168).

<12> Information is abundant and available at any time, yet the fantasy football schedule affords a regimented calendar of information that influences a player’s participation and perception of success or failure within a fantasy community of practice. First, pre-draft rankings and projections combine human information with data analysis to formulate lists to educate fantasy players about trends and possibilities involving the real players. This information is utilized to guide how an “owner” drafts players to fill out a roster. Second, the respective “owner” researches algorithmic projections to organize lineups throughout the season. These projections and the user-friendly functions on fantasy football websites are customizable and interactive, allowing the manipulation of projected lineup performance based upon real matchups, injuries, and player statistical trends. These real-time scenarios are delivered through news-style stories intended to educate fantasy participants about which real players are expected to perform well in the coming weeks. Finally, robot journalists produce weekly recaps and season reviews based on real-world journalism practices (Clerwall 520), statistics, and other news stories, thus generating an aggregate assessment of analysis and forecasting that is unique to fantasy football.

<13> The tricky part is determining what information is significant. Does a player’s pre-draft ranking factor in previous season stats, past and current health concerns, new or departed teammates that may potentially impact playing time, and/or new coaching systems? These all become part of the information package used to influence a user’s choice. It is interesting to note that each host site (e.g., CBS Sports, ESPN, Yahoo!) typically constructs its own rankings based on a consolidation of this type of information. Ultimately, users tend to incorporate multiple media outlets’ pre-draft ranking data to make their decisions because the original construction of a fantasy team influences all future decisions over the course of the season (Billings, Butterworth, and Turman 274). Here, the user embraces the role of team “owner” and is responsible for synthesizing the information based on player match-up, fitness, and performance history (along with a plethora of other data), which often induces anxiety over decisions instead of simplifying the process. In this way, fantasy users complicate their own participation due to this overabundance of data. In pre-Internet fantasy communities, users relied upon newspapers or television reports to gain what little “insider information” was available each week. Today, most fantasy football participants have access to standardized and instantaneous statistics (Ball-Rokeach and DeFleur 10) that are packaged differently by each fantasy football website based on their respective algorithmic predictions. Each new season offers new possibilities for wins and losses, which equate to a sense of status among the members of the group. The goal then becomes one of supremacy, of being at the top of a group hierarchy based on the choices that one makes to achieve success. What ultimately occurs, as with most versions of community, is that the attention to hierarchy itself becomes central to the way each player participates each season.

<14> Fantasy football is not alone in its use of information and points of access to participate as onlookers across celebrity cultures. Fans of television shows access information and engage in conversations in online spaces to build community based upon a shared interest in shows like Twilight and to participate through voting on shows like American Idol (Bérubé 252). Where fantasy football differs from other examples of mediated participation is in the daily, hourly, and sometimes minute by minute commitment to engaging with available information that relies completely on an uncontrolled outcome. This full immersion begins to blur the line between spectator and participant (Amenta and Miric 312). And, the need for information gives rise to the “player fan” (Amenta 53), one who participates to improve self-esteem through fantasy achievement (Spinda and Haridakis 197) rather than simply for the social aspect afforded by community. This mediated identity constructed through technology can influence sporting habits (Amenta and Miric 324), which combine leisure activity and media consumption in connection to fantasy football (Bowman, McCabe, and Isaacson 256).

<15> This overriding need for information feeds the fantasy football machine that consumes its participants’ time and space. Sandra Ball-Rokeach and Melvin DeFleur describe this as media dependency, which emphasizes audience reliance on media information that “leads to modifications in both personal and social processes” (5). They further explain that as societies and media improve technologically the function of information grows uniquely for its users (6). Ball-Rokeach later argues that the macro and micro level influence between communities and individuals “jointly constitute” (486) a good starting point to analyze media dependency. Therefore, how media influences participation and dependency upon specific information vary between how much information to consume, where to access that information, and the fantasy participant’s belief in the trustworthiness of the data and text provided by that respective outlet. These factors and questions develop through a relationship with a mediated space, which Ball-Rokeach defines as “media-system dependency” (487). Karen Paul further advances this relational dependency as influenced by the concept of power (709). This power dynamic, embedded within the media-system dependency structure, specifically related to its influence of surveillance, is outlined in the next section.

<16> Previously unimagined amounts of information accessible through new technology (Amenta and Miric 324) create the “high level of control and personalization” (Farquhar and Meeds 1225) that lead users to feel empowered in the process and participation of fantasy football. However, the algorithms, research, and targeting associated with this individualized construction of space has also resulted in increased data mining by media corporations to analyze user preferences, trends, and wants. Ben Carrington and David Andrews describe this transformation as a mode of commodification geared to corporate success and maximized profits. This dichotomy between corporate control and perceived participatory freedom situates consumption of sport broadly, and participation in fantasy football specifically, within “a prison of measured time” (5). This feeling of confinement intensifies with the influx of information, focus of leisure time toward fantasy participation, and construction of countless spaces of surveillance by participants, media providers, and the real sports leagues.

Disciplining the Fantasy Community

<17> Interest in how fantasy communities of practice are disciplined is aroused by the re-shaping of fantasy football from its origin as a communal activity to an open coexistence between solidarity and supremacy and the role virtual spaces play in governing these environments. What is of interest regarding this coexistence is the methodological shift that alters the study of fantasy football as a community with evolving power dynamics offered through a technological, nonhuman lens. These reshaped fantasy communities of practice reflect a hierarchy that allows for a new level of engagement that speaks to the collective sense of purpose through a rise in a competitive environment. We must, therefore, cultivate a better understanding of power embedded in these new hierarchies and how it functions within shared fantasy communities.

<18> Power and its effects are often described using negative terminology. For Michel Foucault, power is not an excluding, oppressive, censoring abstraction. Rather, power produces reality through domains of objects and rituals of truth. Power is not the principle of an individual, but rather manifests itself through human networks, communities, practices, and behaviors in relation to such forms of human organization. Similarly, negative connotations are often attributed to the effects of discipline. Foucault does not see discipline strictly as the inflicting of physical harm, but, instead, as a mechanism that regulates uses of power in a society aided by complex systems of surveillance (194). This mechanism of power regulates the organization of time, space, and movement.

<19> In Discipline and Punish, Foucault analyzes societies that demonstrate the history of power and discipline through regimented and hierarchical institutions, such as prisons, factories, and asylums. In the third chapter, “Panopticism,” he focuses on Jeremy Bentham’s penitentiary, the Panopticon, designed in the mid-19th century. Foucault maintains that the Panopticon “reverses the principle of the dungeon; or rather of its three functions – to enclose, to deprive of light and to hide – it preserves only the first and illuminates the other two” (Foucault 200). The prison’s design involved spatial enclosures that allowed for constant surveillance of inmates while simultaneously keeping them divided. This arrangement kept individuals confined in such a way that supervisors could see them but that they could not see anyone else. Thus, the individual “is the object of information, never a subject in communication” (Foucault 200). This modern conception of a disciplinary institution was based on the premise that control was more efficient in the light of day rather than in the darkness of night. Power in the panoptic machine comes from the disciplinary mechanism of visibility, which ultimately becomes a trap (Foucault 200). We argue that Foucault’s use of the panoptic metaphor transcends the physical walls of confinement and proves useful in the analysis of a different sort of enclosure provided in virtual spaces.

<20> Virtual spaces designed for fantasy sports websites, smartphone applications, and any other means of access to these fantasy communities reflects a form of human organization that mimics Foucault’s analysis of the panopticon. The virtual coming together within fantasy communities of practice is an ongoing conversation of power and accessibility to information, while acknowledging the ambiguities surrounding the Internet as a social meeting place. This then raises the question: how does this space function as a rhetorical device to monitor its participants? Foucault’s use of panopticism offers a way of analyzing the virtual spaces of fantasy communities of practice by examining virtual systems of social control through disciplinary mechanisms and the correlation between power and knowledge constructed via information available through media systems. We argue that the key issue facing fantasy football has become a matter of attention and accessibility, and that the social ordering is contingent upon how participants navigate through such spaces that are conducive to the needs of the user. Treating these spaces as disciplining mechanisms of surveillance demonstrates the “permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (Foucault 201) through surveillance of and for fantasy football users.

<21> However, Foucault’s panopticon offers only a top-down form of surveillance. Thomas Mathiesen identified a missing, yet significant, power dynamic. He conceptualizes the synopticon, which accounts for the rise and influence of mass media (219). The synopticon reverses the gaze of the panopticon, allowing the many to see the few through and across mediated spaces. Mathiesen primarily focused on television, but the Internet, we argue, fits his synoptic paradigm as well. For example, fantasy participants can see football players, statistics, and opponents simultaneously, creating a “viewer society,” which provides an oppositional view of the negotiations of power through disciplining mechanisms of surveillance. In this sense, Mathiesen argues that “it is possible to say that not only panopticism, but also synopticism characterizes our society, and characterized the transition to modernity” (Mathiesen 219). This notion demonstrates how fantasy communities of practice monitor this virtual realm of fantasy football and the participants involved through the surveillance practices of media information, while also demonstrating how virtual spaces produce a tension between discipline and power as the physical enclosures of disciplinary institutions. The world of fantasy football provides instances that exhibit important aspects about power through a disciplining mechanism that often shapes the construction and presentation of knowledge.

Fantasy Community Enclosure

<22> In the exponentially growing modern media landscape, Andrew Billings and Brody Ruihley argue that fantasy football alters the way people consume media (1), providing sports media with a trendy game changer. Fantasy football affords a heightened degree of fandom by creating a virtual platform that deepens the investment of its participants. Instead of simply tracking favorite team(s), participants surveil, monitor, and share a wide variety of information. Fantasy communities of practice afford these new opportunities by creating a virtual space that curates relevant information tailored for the user.

<23> The Yahoo! Fantasy Football Smartphone Application provides an example of how these virtual spaces are constructed. The application is divided into five sections: standings, roster, matchup, players, and more. The standings separate teams drafted by “owners” and where they rank in total wins, losses, winning streak, points-for, points-against, waiver standing, and total transactions (e.g., adds, drops, and trades of players). The roster displays all members of a participant’s team and provides constant updates, game logs, and season statistics of each player. The matchup changes weekly to “break down” each game between fantasy teams within a league. The players section provides relevant add-drop information for free agents, fantasy news articles, and allows participants to search information on any player in the NFL, fueled by “expert” information produced through algorithmic analysis. The “more” section provides user-specific and interactive information, such as message boards, league settings, roster alerts, and player watch lists. This organized virtual space provides constant surveillance of NFL activity and a synopsis of other users.

<24> The application is a hub of information and a continuous spectacle that remains constantly visible in real time. The application disciplines the user through the interface displaying the information, and the information acquired exercises power that supports Billings and Ruihley’s assertion regarding the transformative way people consume sports media. However, this new installation of media curation still employs an authoritative syndic, who exercises power through continuity of surveillance (Foucault 195). We compare this to what Gilles Deleuze refers to as societies of control shifting the disciplinary process (4). Deleuze posits that continuous institutional reforms “at first express new freedom, but they could participate as well in mechanisms of control that are equal to the harshest of confinements” (4). The emergence of fantasy football in virtual spaces highlights a change in the sports media user’s consumption of information. The virtual spaces governed by, in this case, the Yahoo! application at first signified new freedom through technological innovations. However, the application is still governed by the same mechanism of surveillance constructed by mass media. The enclosure may have changed but control is still modulated “like a self-deforming cast” (Deleuze 4), in which the mechanisms of control and power change shape and conform to the varying enclosures. The modulation of control is never finished. It constantly reforms disciplinary institutions while maintaining power over them. The Yahoo! application appears as a universal hub of information, but is rather a new mechanism of control. All enclosures, whether physical or virtual, are still governed by the exercise of power through the surveillance of the symbolic syndic. The two main forms of surveillance, panopticism and synopticism, fabricate the reality of this consumption of mediated information. The format of consumption has changed, but its governance has not. Fantasy communities of practice are ritualized and disciplined to participate in ways that arise and develop within the community. However, behavior is not universal to all fantasy football participants nor is it forced upon them; instead, it manifests through the disciplining function of power within specific fantasy sports communities.

<25> Virtual spaces are constructed in digital environments, but even the vastness of information and of possibility offered by Internet fantasy communities still reside in enclosures like physical communities. Chat rooms, websites, and smartphone applications carve out spaces to display specific information to a community. These enclosures are virtual conduits regulating and negotiating power through a constant display of visibility, which constitutes Foucault’s second key function of the panopticon—the relationship between power and knowledge (222-223). In fantasy football enclosures, knowledge is not limited to the relevant sports information for individual users, but includes knowledge gained by observing others in the community. All movements in online communities can be supervised and recorded. Thus, power is regulated through the threat of ritualized discipline, which prompts communities to conform through the surveillance of others. Each community member doubles as both a syndic and a prisoner who watches the movements of others while simultaneously being watched and regulated themselves.

<26> Surveillance, we argue, is not isolated as a violation of privacy or as a signal of conspiracy. As previously noted, these spaces reflect the principals of hierarchy that Kenneth Burke understood as the backbone of group life (24). Much like many other sites of competition, these hierarchical principles or supremacist tendencies are seen here as communicative phenomena that manifest through information and knowledge. Curating information through virtual enclosures represents a power function in a new platform that exists in the chaos of the Internet where information is growing exponentially. This often unstructured and expansive virtual space is why surveillance is not necessarily a negative activity. The concern, however, is the modulation of power through the display and visibility of information in virtual enclosures. Supremacy in fantasy communities of practice shifts from knowledge known to knowledge displayed. With the rise of access to information, the concern becomes a battle for attention.


<27> Sport is a multifaceted intersection of players, coaches, and teams with fans, media, and politics. The dynamics are far more complex than just the links between these tangible participants who are seen and witnessed at these intersections. Instead, the complexities in sport reach deeper to what Toby Miller describes as “a key site of pleasure and domination” (Miller 190) that is negotiated through power, one that “involves both the imposition of authority from above and the joy of autonomy from below” (190). He discusses sport as a negotiated space of hierarchy; however, in this description, sport could be replaced with fantasy football and, we argue, the meaning would remain. This nexus of power supports previous research that identifies authority and control (Davis and Duncan 260), arousal and surveillance (Farquhar and Meeds 1208), as well as autonomy, camaraderie, and addiction (Billings, Butterworth, and Turman 279), as common motivations for fantasy football players. Participants are often drawn to fantasy football for the communal pleasure that it offers, but deeper involvement can lead to a desire for domination. As this article contends, new forms of mediated information and increased levels of dependency on the media-system, which are embedded in fantasy football, fuel this shift from pleasure to domination. The need for media is what differentiates fantasy football participants from any other form of sports fan (Dwyer and Drayer 208) and produces a phenomenon that must be further explored.

<28> Fantasy football still retains significant roots within communities of practice. Without community as a foundation, it is unlikely that fantasy football could maintain its salient allure and identity, one that entices nearly 75 million participants who spend more than $4.5 billion annually (Breslger par. 3). On the industry side, revenue from this unreal form of sport has surpassed $70 billion (Goff par. 3). Ball-Rokeach and DeFleur provide an explanation of how these intertwining complexities lure and maintain fantasy football participation through new levels of media dependency that influence power relations within communities of practice and the mass media owned and operated systems:

The social realities people hold are the product of the processes by which the societal system enculturates and socializes persons and structures their social actions. The dependencies people have on media information are a product of the nature of the sociocultural system, category membership, individual needs, and the number and centrality of the unique information functions that the media system serves for individuals and for society. (18)

Once played as a board game or with scores kept on paper, fantasy football is now a participatory culture moderated through communities of practice, controlled by mediated information, and monitored through surveillance, both within and across respective communities, as well as by the media entities in search of new forms of revenue.

<29> Now with a stronger understanding of how technology and virtual spaces affect fantasy football, we offer three predictions for where this industry might be over the next five to ten years. First, fantasy football will further estrange fans from their geographic or familial teams and adversely influence the in-game experience that previously was the heart of sport fandom. Not only will spectatorship at sporting events continue to dwindle, but, for the fans who do attend games, stadium enhancements will include more fantasy football related statistics, graphics, tips, and other modes of monitoring one’s fantasy team while in stadiums. Yes, fans will continue to consume live football; however, the increasing fantasy presence will produce a much less traditional fan experience.

<30> Second, fantasy football will further blur the lines regarding gambling, especially as legislators and fantasy gaming companies negotiate shared revenues. The question is not whether fantasy football will be considered gambling, but what level of regulation will be imposed upon it. Gambling is a known motive for fantasy football participation; but, the question remains: at what level of gambling are participants willing to enter this “game within a game” (Billings, Butteworth, and Turman 281). This aspect of fantasy football will continue to diminish the significance of physical community and will drive further dependency on mediated information to produce larger systems of power that must be negotiated and monitored to retain control within fantasy communities of practice.

<31> Finally, technological innovations will advance even further and result in greater consumption of time, energy, and money from fantasy football participants. User-specific content will move beyond the instant statistics that connect individuals to mobile devices. Customized video highlights based on fantasy game results will create automated, simulated game recaps in the tradition of news highlight programs. Akin to robot journalism, which provides text recaps via hyperlinks, it is just a matter of time before the technological synergy of multimedia content migrates into the fantasy experience. This will push boundaries into social media where fans can share highlights, recaps, and explore the glory of victory and the agony of defeat that is now a mediated form of reality for fantasy participants.


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