The Reality of Fantasy Sports

An inside look at the entrepreneurial all-stars behind a $1 billion business phenomenon.

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How Fantasy Became a Reality

The roots of fantasy gaming go back decades. Here are the noteworthy moments:

1. A new book, Kerouac at Bat: Fantasy Sports and the King of the Beats, details a 1940s fantasy baseball league invented by novelist Jack Kerouac, author of the beatnik bible On the Road and obsessive fan.

2. Most historians cite 1960 as the big bang of fantasy gaming. That year, Harvard University sociologist William Gamson introduced the National Baseball Seminar, competing against colleagues to assemble a roster that would earn the most points according to big-league players’ final seasonal statistics in batting average, RBIs, ERAs and wins.

3. Gamson continued the National Baseball Seminar during his subsequent tenure at the University of Michigan, where his league included American Studies professor Bob Sklar. Sklar passed the game along to student Daniel Okrent, later an editor for The New York Times and Esquire.

4. Okrent invented Rotisserie League Baseball in late 1979, borrowing the name from La Rotisserie Francaise, the Manhattan restaurant where he and friends regularly met to play. Okrent’s breakthrough was the introduction of an annual preseason draft.

5. During the 1981 Major League Baseball strike, baseball beat writers wrote stories about the growing Rotisserie craze. The founders of the original Rotisserie league published their first guidebook in 1984, and the principles of fantasy gaming quickly spread to other sports—most notably football.

6. By 1990, as many as 500,000 people reportedly were playing in some kind of fantasy league. Okrent and Glen Waggoner, editor of the Rotisserie League Baseball book series, were inducted into FSTA’s Fantasy Sports Hall of Fame in 2000. —By Jason Ankeny

Ankeny is a Chicago-based freelance writer and media critic.

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