Stratton’s Stand: Ranking the big three sports on fantasy appeal 

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This past Sunday saw the start of the NFL season, which for different fans means a lot of different things. For some, it means they get to support their favorite team through thick and thin during the cooler months of the fall. For others, it means they get to draft teams of players in the league and compete against family, friends and coworkers. Using the title as a context clue, I’ll leave you to figure out which group I fall into. Hint: it’s the second one. 

I don’t just play fantasy football, though; I also participate in the much less popular fantasy baseball and fantasy basketball games, which each receive less than half the participants of fantasy football, according to GetSportsInfo. Today, I decided to rank the three sports based on how fun and interesting they are to play. Let’s jump into it 

1. FANTASY BASKETBALL 

Cleveland Cavaliers guard Donovan Mitchell poses with his jersey during an introductory press conference at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Photo by David Richard-USA TODAY Sports.

Although the least popular fantasy game with just under nine million players, fantasy basketball is the best fantasy sport. The default formatting in ESPN involves 13 spots on a roster with 10 players playing on any given night and teams can have as many players from any specific position as they want. There tend to be head-to-head matchup periods of one week and whoever’s roster scores more points wins that game.  

The reason why fantasy basketball is the best is because of the simple, yet strong strategy that it requires from participants. Unlike any other fantasy sport, all players are graded on the same scale. In baseball, you have pitchers and field players. In football, there are quarterbacks, defenses, kickers and more, all of whom can collect points differently. Although that implements a different level of strategy with roster management, the standardization of basketball makes it easier for the average fan to understand why their player did well or poorly.  

Looking at the strategy, it all really comes down to movements on a day-to-day basis. To win in basketball, editing the roster every day is a must, which helps keep the players engaged. There’s the simplicity of seeing when your players have games and putting them into the lineup, as well as picking up players and dropping ones. Identifying talent that will best maximize a team’s points on a given day is critical and a fun aspect. There’s also the question of how many players a team should be rotating on a daily basis, which depends on some deeper league settings. In short, fantasy basketball reigns supreme, with an engagement level that beats football and a simplicity that neither baseball nor football will ever be able to attain.  

2. FANTASY BASEBALL 

Baltimore Orioles right fielder Anthony Santander (25) is tagged out by Washington Nationals catcher Riley Adams (15) during the second inning at Nationals Park. Photo by Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports.

Fantasy baseball is the second most popular of the three, and also happens to be the second best. The format is similar to that of basketball: There are 21 slots on the roster, with nine fielders starting on any given day, five starting pitchers and two relievers. In general, a team will have 10 starters on the roster, meaning that there won’t really ever be a day where they would have more pitchers starting for their fantasy team than playing in real life, since pitchers play once every five or six days. This is why pitchers’ points are worth roughly five times more than those of hitters. 

All leagues are different, but baseball strategy is complex in most leagues what with having to manage the two separate sides. To keep things fair, my league puts a starting pitcher cap of 10, along with a rule that a team cannot make more than seven acquisitions during a week-long matchup period. This forces managers to be careful with their moves. Since pitchers are so valuable on a day-to-day basis, teams tend to leave one roster slot open for a rotating pitcher. That way, the team can rake in about 15 additional points daily. Strategy is required with this, as managing performance from batters becomes an important part of the equation. If a hitter is doing poorly, the manager has to estimate if using one of the seven moves to replace the batter with a better one will be more or less valuable than if the move was used for a pitcher. It’s a tough decision every time, and is a special part of fantasy baseball that just doesn’t exist anywhere else.  

3. FANTASY FOOTBALL 

Buffalo Bills wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie (6) celebrates a touchdown with center Mitch Morse (60) in the second half against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium. Photo by Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports.

Don’t get me wrong here — fantasy football is still a great fantasy sport. However, it’s also the easiest to succeed in without putting in much effort. Unlike basketball or baseball, where you need to put in work on the daily to win, not much effort is required after draft day to succeed in football. Aside from bye weeks and injuries, the amount of work is really minimal, especially as leagues get smaller. This is why you see random people who are not into the sport still killing it with their auto-drafted team.  

There are a series of different positions, but it’s not super complex since it’s easy to monitor them once the team is drafted. There are different draft strategies, such as the “no RB” where managers wait until late rounds to pick running backs, but ultimately a lot of the success is up to chance. 

In short, this reduced effort means that there’s less interest on a day-to-day basis. In baseball and basketball, there are games almost every day to track your team. Football is only played on Thursdays, Sundays and Mondays, which makes it more difficult to stay engaged. Although it’s great that there are more people interested in football, the fantasy sport just doesn’t have that same awesome feeling that the other two do. Meanwhile, a win in those sports feels a lot more gratifying than in football because of the amount of effort put in. Football is still an elite fantasy sport, but there are some obstacles it will never overcome for it to beat the excitement of baseball or basketball. 

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