The Other Fantasy Football

Photo: REUTERS/Toby Melville

“Stats don’t mean a lot, mate.”

This was a response to my post on Yahoo! UK’s Fantasy EPL site about choosing goalkeepers. Keep in mind, I’d written, that Fulham had only given up 2 goals at home in 6 games. Sure enough, Fulham kept a clean sheet that weekend. Stats do mean a lot, mate. In fact, Fantasy Sports are comprised of nothing but stats. So dismissing their importance is a bit daft, innit.

But herein lies the learning curve of Fantasy Sports for people outside the United States. Fantasy Sports are a very American creation. Sports like football, basketball, and baseball cater to the stat-crunching nature of Fantasy. Soccer has never been a stat driven sport. Many Americans decry the lack of goals when talking about soccer. But that doesn’t bother the rest of the world. In lieu of ‘Touchdown!’ and ‘Home Run!’ international soccer fans derive a more cerebral joy from their game. While we have convoluted stats like OPS and WHIP, soccer stats are pretty basic, like Goal and Save. In fact, when a player passes to a goal scorer, they don’t use the term ‘assist’. They might mention who ‘played provider’ but there is no official tally of “providers.”

Yahoo!’s Fantasy EPL game is a mixed success. The game does have it right when it comes to the stats. They have literally created all these categories that no real soccer fan would dare contemplate. Successful Cross, Corner Won, Blocked Shot, Pass Intercepted, etc. This is the best game out there because most others rely on your standard Goal, Assist or Clean Sheet (Shutout in Yank parlance). The EPL game is a bit arbitrary in that you don’t know who determines a Successful Cross or Shot On Target. But in that sense, I guess, it is very European.

For all of its fancy stats, though, it’s obvious that the game hasn’t been accepted by the majority of international soccer fans. North Americans are a large portion of people who play the game. And, although the game has its own ‘expert’ columnists, they’re both American. That makes sense because we’ve been doing fantasy for longer. Europeans are experts at real soccer. Just not the fake one.

An obstacle to the acceptance of Fantasy in the soccer world is the sense of ownership. As a fantasy owner, you own the players on your team, until you decide to trade them for someone else. Real-life free agency has helped soften Americans loyalty for athletes. A Red Sox fan wouldn’t have a problem drafting A-Rod for his fantasy baseball team as long as he helps him win. But Europeans are saddled with another rooting muddle – Club vs Country. After the 2006 World Cup, Manchester United fans had the tricky task of welcoming back their Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, after he had helped convince the ref to send off England forward(and Manchester United teammate) Wayne Rooney in a quarterfinal game. Ronaldo beat their English national team and rubbed it in with a wink, which earned him the sobriquet of Facking Winker.

The effects of this were felt in the Fantasy Soccer world. In Yahoo!’s game, some people form Ronaldo-free leagues because they can’t stand the thought of rooting for him. That’s like creating a Kobe-free NBA league. Of course, Ronaldo had the last laugh as he averaged more fantasy points than anyone else by a wide margin. Here in the States, a good fantasy player uses Gordon Gekko’s words as his mantra: ‘First lesson in business – Don’t get emotional about a stock.’ If a player has value, you want him on your team. Europeans are still struggling with that. They are so passionate and emotional about their teams, that the ‘pure’ fantasy paradigm might take a little while to take hold. When that time comes, they’ll understand the reality of fantasy sports: it’s all about the numbers.

Gentry Kirby is an Emmy Award-winning producer who in 2006 moved his base of operations from New York to Charlotte, trading bagels for barbecue and the ponies for stock cars.

Do the have a stat for work-rate? In Champions League, when a player comes off, they show “distance covered,.” I never understand how they track that.

— USsoccerfan    Dec 16, 10:08 AM    #

Dude. Balderdash. I would never have A-Rod on my fantasy team.

Does MLS have a fantasy league?

Are there rankings on fantasy players by sport? Football must be well ahead of everyone, but I’d be curious to see where other sports rank.

Stat-it-up Statboy!

DF    Dec 16, 12:44 PM    #

There are a bunch of fantasy MLS leagues like mfls.com and one run by the MLS.

— USSoccerfan    Dec 16, 06:44 PM    #

Apparently, when the soccer clubs bring in kids into their youth academies, they implant some sort of chip in their head. This allows for the tracking. Of course, there are some frequency differences between various regions so the stats are somewhat unreliable. Actually, ESPN Soccernet has come up with this great device which shows a player’s average position for the game. This is very useful for fantasy purposes.

— gman    Dec 16, 07:49 PM    #

Fantasy Sports should be renamed Fatmans Sports.

WR    Dec 19, 02:47 PM    #

great article – since i eat, breathe, and sleep the ‘other’ fantasy football at never captain nicky butt, its nice to see these pieces covering the beautiful fantasy game… cheers!

Ibracadabra    Dec 19, 06:42 PM    #

A good read. I spent too much time over my team weighing the finer points of emotion (no players from the Baggies or the Villa) and stat/points earning of the players. A jolly good read.

Wulfrunian    Dec 20, 07:13 AM    #

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