The NFL is still ready for football – Peter Funt

The other night, the National Football League commandeered two hours of prime time on ESPN for what used to be done in a minute or two with a fax: releasing next season’s schedule. It was disappointing television, but in the NFL’s quest to make professional football a year-round attraction, it was an important part of a pretty amazing marketing matrix.

Why would even the most diehards care about a calendar that doesn’t come into effect until September? The answer lies in a growing style of fantasy football and sports betting known as “best ball,” for which betting windows are open 365 days a year, with millions on the line.

In January, nearly two weeks before the Chiefs beat the 49ers in the Super Bowl to conclude the 2023 season, leading best-ball company Underdog Fantasy began hosting tournaments for the following season. In other words, fantasy football competitors were drafting teams for games that would still be played nearly nine months away. And it was no small feat: “The Big Board” offered $2 million in prize money for a $10 entry fee, while “The Little Board” offered $150,000 in prize money for a right $3 entry fee.

Matthew Berry, NBC’s top fantasy football analyst, said the ultra-early game opportunity would definitely appeal to “fantasy football freaks of all shapes and sizes.”

In April, the NFL spread its annual college player draft across three days and two networks. The free event held in Detroit set an attendance record, with more than 700,000 people spending an estimated $160 million at downtown businesses. Two days later, Underdog opened its flagship competition, “Best Ball Mania”, with 672,700 entries (up to 150 per person), each costing $25 (a $16.8 million take) with $15 million of prizes, including 1.5 million dollars for the first.

In best ball, participants recruit a team of NFL players, but unlike traditional leagues, there are no in-season rosters, trades, or waiver pickups – in fact, the participant has nothing to do after the draft but sit and wait. A computer automatically selects the optimal lineup for each week after the games are played.

But knowing the game schedule is an essential part of the best ball strategy – taking into account when teams will have a bye week and what the matchups will be like in the final weeks of the season.

For the NFL, which has recently rejected fantasy football and related types of sports betting, hot ball has become a valuable tool for maintaining fan interest throughout the year.

For sportsbooks including Underdog, Yahoo, DraftKings and other providers, this is the perfect product because millions of dollars are collected and held for up to a year before winnings are paid out.

At the opening of Best Ball Mania, Berry’s colleague Peter Overzet spoke for the NFL and sports betting when he declared, “It’s the best Christmas ball.”

Peter Funt’s latest book is called “Playing POTUS: The Power of America’s Acting Presidents,” about comedians impersonating presidents.