Aside from the distant promise of cooler temperatures, the most exciting thing about September might be the return of football season. But among those ready to pick out their favorite couch spot or barstool every Sunday (and Monday … and Thursday … and some Saturdays), the massive game within a game of fantasy football may be even more worth celebrating.
Sure, it’s easy to cheer for the Arizona Cardinals — particularly if you stuck with them through the decades of embarrassment preceding the Kurt Warner era — and many Valley residents have adopted at least one other team to help balance the disappointment that Big Red eventually leaves us with every year. But fantasy football brings the tension and excitement of a season-long competition to those who have never stepped foot on the gridiron, and Phoenix-area football diehards Mike Wright, Andy Holloway, and Jason Moore have turned their passion into a top-ranking podcast around the world. It's called The Fantasy Footballers.
“We do a full approach to fantasy football, with everything from what players you should draft and what players to avoid to actual strategies within the game, but we’re also emphasizing fun,” Wright says. “We get asked a lot, ‘How do I make my league more fun?’ and we help with that, too. We’re five days per week right now, and we’re a yearlong fantasy football show, so for people who do not play, that probably sounds absolutely crazy. Our three pillars are entertainment, high-level production, and being accurate to help you win.”
But Wright and his buddies are far from the only ones capitalizing on the popularity of fantasy sports. Choosing players, setting lineups, and gloating over your downtrodden friends has gone from a hobby for a few sports nerds to a multibillion-dollar industry that’s changing the way the internet and places like Las Vegas look at sports betting. Of course, while the money changing hands is (legally) only for adults, the Fantasy Footballers have made sure their show is for everyone. Considering themselves the Disney version of fantasy football, the podcasters want to appeal to everyone from small kids to senior citizens of all races and genders. After all, what was once a time-waster dominated by football-loving dudes has evolved into a massive community with rapidly growing numbers across all class, gender, and race lines.
“This is a silly game we play where we don’t really affect anything, but it’s become so much more than just a game,” Wright says. “If you’re listening to the show, we want you to win and we work extremely hard to help you win, but it’s also about seeing the communities grow out of these leagues. People are staying connected with college buddies and old friends that there’s no way they would’ve stayed in touch with otherwise. That’s an amazing byproduct that I don’t think any of us saw coming.”
Along with the explosion in fantasy sports over the last decade, the way people consume media has drastically changed just as much. Rather than watching cable TV and listening to the radio, the rise of YouTube, podcasts, and other accessible formats means a few guys with a passion for a seemingly meaningless online game can reach as many people around the world as an ESPN broadcast. It’s a freedom that gives people like the Footballers all of the tools they need to succeed, and there’s no sign it won’t be the way all media is handled in the future.
“It’s pretty incredible that you’re no longer at the whim of what sports radio thinks you should be listening to or when they think you should be listening to it,” Wright says. “Now, it’s on demand as a podcast, so you can listen to it whenever you want. You get in and out of the car or you go to the gym, you can start and stop it. It’s a really liberating thing to be a podcast, and it’s the future — just like YouTube seems to be the future of video. I don’t think it’d be possible to talk about fantasy football as your job with any other medium like terrestrial radio.”
While the bulk of what Wright, Holloway, and Moore do is all streamed online and listened to on headphones, they’ll be offering a different experience for their fans to kick off the season. As a one-time Labor Day special, the Fantasy Footballers will be recording their show live from the Crescent Ballroom on Monday night. Along with their usual football advice and entertainment, the trio will be putting on a bit of an interactive spectacle for those who want to come see it in person.
“It’s going to be an excellent fun time for everyone to get together,” Wright says of the upcoming live taping. “We’re going to put on a show for the podcast and let people ask questions on the podcast. There’s going to be a lot of interaction, and I think it’s going to be really fun for everyone.”
The Fantasy Footballers: Live begins at 7 p.m. on Monday, September 4, at Crescent Ballroom. Tickets start at $15 and are available through their website.