What Fantasy Football Can Teach Us About Research

Fall is well upon us, which means one thing:

Fantasy Football.

Despite being a huge football fan, I never understood the appeal of the Fantasy phenomenon. “Wait, you play a virtual game with NFL players… you mean like The Sims?”

Yet every year, I felt like I was missing out. Something huge was happening that I wasn’t a part of and I wanted in. So this season, I joined a random Yahoo league, named a team, and boom! I’ve become part of the craze.

Turns out, everything I thought about Fantasy Football was wrong. Sure it’s like The Sims…. The Sims on steroids.

You’re not playing house dammit! You’re playing FOOTBALL. Your money is at stake (and your pride).

I’ve found myself obsessed with stats and injury reports. I use those nine minutes of snooze time on my iPhone to check my Fantasy app. I eat breakfast and dinner to the tune of Sports Center. I even willingly watch the Saints play.

In all of the Fantasy mania, I’ve realized that this is a whole new level of obsession.

I’ve always considered myself a research junkie. As a Journalism student, it was pretty crucial to my degree. I spent more than a few long nights in my college library making my articles bulletproof. I’ve also learned to scour every resource available so that I can know my clients inside and out. Research is essential to my job. I need to be informed, and deeply so.

But Fantasy Football research is something else entirely. It consumes its players. We leech spare moments out of our days just to devour information that might change the outcome of our matchup. We can never get enough.

It got me thinking… what if we could all bring this insatiable appetite for research into our work?

The Research Paradox


This year, Fantasy is estimated to cost businesses more than $13 billion in workplace productivity. Why?

Because employees are on ESPN. They’re on blogs, Twitter, Fantasy Football Today—they’re going past the first page search results on Google just to find out if swapping their WR will bring down 1st place “Browns Faithful” this week.

What could we accomplish if we were this fired up about the analysis we do for our jobs? We would know our clients, our competitors, and our own abilities much better.

With Google, we have an incredibly vast library at our fingertips. With our smartphones, we have Internet wherever we go. So you’d think research would be an integral part of our every day work. And it is. I can’t argue with the fact that the research people do in this industry, and in many other industries, is incredibly thorough. At Nebo, we spend hours preparing for a single project just so we can be sure we’re experts on a topic.

But somehow, amazingly, it still pales in comparison to the never ending, can’t-get-enough research we throw ourselves into for Fantasy Football.

Maybe it’s because Fantasy isn’t just about getting the job done. It’s about dominating. You can’t just read stats. You have to read the coaches’ insights, team predictions, doctors’ comments, players’ mother’s blog posts…

Could I set up my team once and let the same all-star players play every game? Sure, for a while. But soon I’d be starting a RB who has a bye-week. Without the research, you become the person who doesn’t realize your first pick QB should ride the bench because he’s facing the Legion of Boom and your backup is plenty decent enough to take on the Jaguars.

Research is what sets you apart from the competition. And in Fantasy Football, it’s not enough to be great—being the best is all that matters.

Bringing Fantasy Frenzy to the Workplace


There’s a thirst for knowledge when the stakes are high. We see that with Fantasy—it’s Fantasy Frenzy. But what exactly are the stakes?


For some, money. But for everyone… pride.

When you win your Fantasy Football league, you get bragging rights for a whole year. You’re an unstoppable force of ultimate NFL knowledge—and your friends/coworkers/spouse have to accept your rule. It’s an intrinsic reward that can’t be spent, can’t be wasted, and can’t be achieved any other way- it’s unique.

Tapping into this unique intrinsic value in the office could work wonders. We see it already with gamification. As Adam Penenberg, professor of Journalism at NYU points out, it’s already started, and it has the potential to change the workplace. But it’s not just about squeezing more work out of employees by simulating a game environment; it’s about enhancing the work we’re doing.

I don’t play Fantasy just for the chance of winning—I do it because it’s fun. The game is engaging. Thus, the research I put into it is thorough, because A- I want to win and B- I enjoy it.  This isn’t about getting us to do more research. It’s about how we do that research. It’s about the passion we bring not only to marketing, but to any industry.

Can we achieve this one-two punch with gamification alone? Perhaps… if we do it correctly. If our motivations are not just about forcing more research out of ourselves, but genuinely transforming the process into one that is enjoyable, engaging, and fulfilling. Maybe it’s idealistic… but so is hoping to win the league with Geno Smith as your QB.

And maybe, at the end of the day, gamification as “the answer” doesn’t matter. What matters is that Fantasy hits on something that people take seriously- seriously enough to go above and beyond to get a competitive advantage. I believe there’s a way to ignite this same vigor in our work, too. If gamification is your answer, great! If it’s something else, that’s okay too.

But whatever it is, I’m throwing down the gauntlet.

I challenge you find passion. To get competitive. To discover something—anything—that drives you to be the absolute best… that drives you to crave more information, immerse yourself in research, and become consumed with an insatiable thirst for what you do.

Someone, somewhere is obsessing over your industry. You could keep up, or you could get left behind. Or better yet, you could blow them away.

The outcome is up to you.

Written by Jack Scullin on October 23, 2014


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Jack Scullin