ESPN’s Matthew Berry on America’s fascination with fantasy sports

ENTB_Berry_1121

At first glance, America’s growing interest in fantasy sports might just seem like an expansion of what it means to be a fan. If cheering for your favorite team and watching your favorite highlight programs isn’t enough to sate your fandom, you can join any one of millions of online fantasy leagues, where you can draft your favorite players from across the league and make their triumphs (and failures) count for you.

But according to fantasy-guru Matthew Berry’s new book “Fantasy Life: The Outrageous, Uplifting, and Heartbreaking World of Fantasy Sports from the Guy Who’s Lived It,” it’s not just “geeks in black shirts in their mom’s basement” playing in fantasy sports leagues anymore — it’s 13 percent of the American population and growing. To what does he attribute this increasing fascination?

“Ultimately it’s about fun and friendship,” says the ESPN senior fantasy sports analyst (he would know — the 43-year-old is still playing in the same league he joined as a teenager). Moreover, he says it’s something that has to be experienced to be truly understood.

“It’s like going to your first Bruce Springsteen concert. You can be a Springsteen fan and love his albums, but it’s not until you’ve seem him up on stage, absolutely pouring his heart out for four hours that you can truly understand how awesome he is.” That’s pretty high praise for online fantasy sports, but Berry’s book makes a compelling case for the new American pastime’s most dedicated believers.

“The craziest story I know is about this one soldier who was in Afghanistan on his fantasy draft day,” says Berry. “There was only one place outside where he could get a connection, and a bomb went off 60 yards from where he was standing.” Luckily, the soldier was unharmed, but the story highlights how a true fantasy obsessive will never miss their draft day — even by peril of death.

With obsession also comes dedication. Berry knows of a tattoo league, where the losers have to get a humiliating tattoo of his league’s choice? Even Berry can’t abide that one. (“Imagine a Justin Beiber tattoo on a grown-man,” he muses, with a shiver.)

ENTB_Berry2_1121

For most of us, the stakes will never as high as death or Bieber, but Berry promises that there’s plenty of fun to be had, even for the most casual fans among us.

Berry says that ESPN is always trying to figure out ways to grow the fantasy industry, from including fantasy segments in “real” sports programs to making sure that web and mobile applications are easy to use, and appeal to everyone from grandmothers and rabbis to college girls and even pro athletes themselves. And it’s not just sports like football that define the world of fantasy.

“You can play fantasy anything,” says Berry. “There are fantasy movie leagues where people win points depending on how successful the movies are. In Japan, fantasy sumo is huge. Any place where people can complete, there is an opportunity for fantasy.”

So, what’s next? Fantasy lay-offs? Fantasy obituaries? Only time will tell.

Matthew Berry will stop in Boston to discuss his book on Friday, Nov. 22 at 6 p.m. at the Brattle Theatre :: 40 Brattle St., Cambridge :: $5 :: brattlefilm.org

 


News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.

International

Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.

News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

International

Jews in eastern Ukraine ordered to register, Kerry…

Secretary of State John Kerry condemned reports that Jews in eastern Ukraine had been ordered to register with the authorities "or suffer the consequences."

Entertainment

Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

NBA

Deron Williams leads Nets over Raptors in Game…

The Nets traveled to a raucous Air Canada Centre but came out with an important Game 1 victory over the Raptors.

NBA

Carmelo Anthony agonizing over Knicks future as season…

There’s still the cloud hanging over the franchise’s head as to the pending free-agent status of All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony.

NFL

Jets host players with eye toward NFL Draft

The Jets hosted a number of NFL Draft hopefuls for workouts on Thursday, with an eye toward some under-the-radar players.

NFL

Chris Johnson: I wanted to go to 'a…

Now that Chris Johnson is a Jet, the team has to figure out if one of the most explosive players in the NFL over the last half decade has anything…

Tech

VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.

Tech

#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.