Book Review: Fantasy Sports and the Changing Sports Media Industry: Media, Players, and Society (Lexington, 2016), edited by Nicholas David Bowman, John S. W. Spinda, and Jimmy Sanderson

by Andrew J. Ploeg

Keywords: Sports; Entertainment; Media; Fantasy Sports


<1> Fantasy Sports and the Changing Sports Media Industry: Media, Players, and Society is a volume of essays dedicated to fantasy sports, games that, in 2016, attracted 57.4 million participants in North America alone. Nicholas David Bowman (Associate Professor of Communication Studies at West Virginia University), John S. W. Spinda (Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Clemson University), and Jimmy Sanderson (Director of Marketing, Communications, and Faculty Relations for Clemson Online at Clemson University) serve as the volume’s editors. Together they have gathered the most comprehensive single collection of essays published on fantasy sports to date.

<2> Divided into five thematically related sections, the volume addresses the “various ways in which fantasy sports have permeated the larger Mediasport infrastructure” (ix). Its purpose is to present fantasy sports as a cultural artifact with a significant impact on both sport and society, and, as such, one worthy of serious scholarly attention. “Fantasy sports,” the editors maintain, “have emerged as a legitimate facet of larger sports culture,” (xviii), one “that can both create and reinforce fan avidity, that encourages mediated social interactions, and that has global appeal among fans, sports, and media institutions alike” (xviii).

<3> The volume’s fifteen chapters draw upon a wide array of data-driven and theoretical research methods. “Section 1: Roots of Fantasy Sports” traces the history of North American fantasy sports from the mid-20th century to today, as well as its development in Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world. In Chapter 2, “Simulations and Fantasy Sports: The Forgotten Element?,” the section’s standout offering, Spinda draws parallels between fantasy sports, sports video games, and sports simulation games, all three of which he describes as attempts to “repurpose sports through gameplay” (19). In doing so, he makes a compelling case for the similarity in participant motivations between them. Given these significant overlaps, he argues that the three are “functional alternatives” to one another and that realism (an overlooked aspect of fantasy sports research and motivational analysis) may be the determining factor between them in the minds of potential participants.

<4> “Section 2: Fans and Fandom” investigates the motivations of fantasy sports participation and the various forms that participation can take, focusing mainly on issues of competition, community, gender, and identity. Chapter 6, “Draft Day: Risk, Responsibility, and Fantasy Football,” is another of the volume’s most noteworthy contributions. In it, Andrew Baerg draws upon theories of governmentality in order to contend that fantasy football discourses help to normalize neo-liberalism through their emphasis on risk management. He argues that fantasy football translates neo-liberal values from productive spaces to leisure spaces and aids in the manufacturing of neo-liberal subjectivities. “Section 3: Fantasy and Sports Media” explores the integration of fantasy sports coverage into legacy and digital media and its influence upon them, while “Section 4: The Institutional Perspective” examines the impact of fantasy sports on the broader sports industry, including relevant legal issues such as gambling and intellectual property laws, privacy, defamation, cheating, etc.

<5> “Section 5: For the Love of the Fantasy Game” completes the volume by providing an introduction to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association and an overview of what many consider to be the future of the industry: Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS). In the book’s conclusion, “Projecting the Next Round: Scouting the Future of Fantasy Sports,” Bowman, Spinda, Sanderson, and Shaun M. Anderson highlight significant themes that run throughout the collection. These themes include the relationship of fantasy sports to sports culture, the intersection of fantasy sports and social media, the business of fantasy sports, and the barriers to continued growth of the fantasy sports industry.

<6> The volume’s main strength lies in achieving its goal of gathering a thematically diverse collection of essays that explore the many complex dynamics between fantasy sports, sports fans, the sports industry, and media—what the editors describe as “the larger Mediasport entity” (297). Drawing upon fields such as sports communication, psychology, cultural studies, economics, history, journalism, leadership studies, law, management, and recreation studies, the volume embodies the diverse nature of fantasy sports research. It makes apparent the many scholarly avenues that have been opened and those that have not yet been adequately explored. It constitutes an effective introduction to the current state of fantasy sports scholarship, while also helping to “spur research on fantasy sport that encompasses a variety of perspectives and add to a literature that has a very exciting future” (xvii).

<7> While some of its chapters offer genuinely new and innovative work on fantasy sports, the majority of the book is devoted to summarizing research that has already been published. In this sense, it often gestures toward unique directions in fantasy sports scholarship, though few of its offerings actually blaze bold new paths of their own. Its focus then seems to be more on the “historical” than the “emergent” features of fantasy sports research (xviii). What is more, while the volume has twenty authors in total, almost half—eight—contribute to two or more of the volume’s pieces, with several contributing to three and even four articles each. The result is that the volume feels more exclusive than inclusive, presenting a somewhat insular exchange among a group of select scholars, rather than one between those scholars and the field at large.

<8> Nevertheless, as the first edited volume of its kind devoted to fantasy sports, it is a significant work and one well worth reading. In terms of audience, it would be particularly beneficial for scholars new to the field of fantasy sports studies, though perhaps slightly less helpful for those who already know it well. It would be of interest to readers invested in popular culture, game studies, cultural and sports history, sports media, communication studies, sports management, and fan studies. Written in an accessible style, the collection would be an enjoyable read for anyone with an intellectual interest in fantasy sports. As the editors rightly suggest, the collection is a “valuable resource for those who both have an interest in studying and playing fantasy sports” (xvii).