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Laura Goldberg, general manager of NFL Online, joined us onstage at the NewTeeVee Live conference today to talk about fantasy football. As Chris has described in the past (subscription required), fantasy football is huge — like, really huge. “As we’re here today, there are 30 million […]

Laura GoldbergLaura Goldberg, general manager of NFL Online, joined us onstage at the NewTeeVee Live conference today to talk about fantasy football. As Chris has described in the past (subscription required), fantasy football is huge — like, really huge. “As we’re here today, there are 30 million people playing fantasy games, and over half of them are playing football-related games,” Goldberg said.

Unlike the old days, fantasy football is no longer a game of pen and paper and small groups of friends. The Internet has made fantasy football a much bigger industry, and much of that growth has been driven through innovation online (and vice versa).

“If you think about it, fantasy was the first social network,” Goldberg remarked. You had 8-12 people sending each other messages, posting to message boards, telling each other what they were about to do. That experience translates very well into a big digital business for NFL.com. Why? “Fantasy is the base of community on our site,” she said.

As most web publishers know, building community is key to many of the strategies that monetize content online. Because fantasy requires greater engagement with a broad range of teams, games and stats, players develop a fuller understanding of the game — which makes them interested in more content. Sure, NFL.com offers fantasy platforms, both free as well as a detailed paid game — but also information such as video highlights, statistics, etc. NFL.com is the only place viewers can find highlights of every game in the league. Fantasy players consume a huge amount of that content. A recent video of Brett Favre’s touchdown was NFL.com’s most watched video ever, according to Goldberg.

For the National Football League, that community development extends beyond the online space as well. Fantasy engagement has helped expand the audience for all of the NFL’s content. “You find yourself watching games that you otherwise didn’t care about,” Goldberg noted. Instead of watching a game on Sunday or Monday or Thursday, you start watching all the games that happen. You have to watch highlights on Monday, waiver wire on Tuesday, trading, and so on. That obsessiveness has extended football from the Sunday-Monday window to the entire week. It has also helped extend the season across the entire 12 months of the year — kicking up viewer interest in combine, draft, and free agency in March — all phases of the football schedule.

It also extends player interest to other platforms: Godlberg notes that NFL.com now offer mobile apps and web sites and a special issue magazine each year. Hard-core fantasy players are likely to be subscribers to DirecTV packages and other subscription products from NFL.com as well — regional content from across the country, full DVR functionality online to watch games on-demand, and more.”We see it going across all of our media assets,” Goldberg noted.

While the week may have been extended, fantasy has also transformed Sunday into a two- or three-screen game for fans. You can go to what we call our game center and it’s essentially a simulation of the game — watching 3-D drive charts, tracking statistics and more. On Sunday, visitors spend upwards of an hour on NFL.com.

Goldberg also name three big opportunities for fantasy in the future:

  • Widgets: You watch the main game, run down on the side, and see what’s going on in your league. Lots of integration opportunities for online and TV content.
  • Game simulation: Goldberg said NFL is working on simulation tools that take “something like the Madden engine” and recreate a game simulation based on your league, show how you earned your points — creating a video game-like environment for bringing fantasy games to life.
  • Social networking: Is there an opportunity to grow the small social communities that emerge around fantasy? Can we combine leagues and bring them into competition with each other? Social networking is a big opportunity for the NFL, Goldberg said, because it drives site engagement, which will also help us with advertising and revenue opportunities.

Related article: “Fantasy Football’s Very Real Digital Business” (subscription required)

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