How much money can you make playing fantasy football? Millions, if you believe the ads, the hype and the breakout success stories. You can also make millions playing basketball or starting a software company, but most people don’t.
Fantasy football has gone from a fun pastime with friends to a multi-billion dollar industry. An estimated 41 million people play fantasy football in 2015. They’ll vie for a projected $3 billion in prizes. As exciting as it is, the odds of making millions or even hundreds of thousands playing fantasy football are very, very, very slight.
Breakout Stories and Fan Drool
Stories of people making $100,000 from fantasy football, or even millions of dollars, are everywhere. The problem with stories like that is they don’t tell the real story, any more than just studying the life stories of Tom Brady and LeBron James will give an accurate picture of what happens when you play sports.
Most People Lose Money On Fantasy Football
85% of fantasy football players are likely to lose money. The chart below shows how the daily fantasy sports money brackets break down. 1% make 91% of the profits, with only a tiny fraction of a percent making over six figures. Another 14% make beer money, and a king sized 85% lose money on the game.
1% Make 91% of the Money
The sad truth about fantasy football is, 1% of the players get 91% of the money. That’s based on data by statisticians at Sports Business Daily. They got their figures by digging into Major League Baseball Daily Fantasy Sports, but the numbers generally hold for Fantasy Football money too.
To drill down a little deeper, 11 people in the league took the lion’s share of the money, earning $135,000 each in the first half of the 2015 season. That should be a big red flag to anyone who thinks they’re going to make $100,000 or more playing fantasy football. With 1.5 million people in the league, that’s a 1 in 136,363 chance of making over $100,000 a year at Fantasy Football. Let’s put that in perspective, shall we?
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Odds of Making Over $100,000 from Fantasy Football
Comparing the odds of making over $100,000 a year at fantasy football to a few red letter events gives us some perspective. Check out the table below for about 1,000 CCs of perspective, straight to the femoral artery.
|Odds of Making Money at Fantasy Football||Odds||Compared to FF|
|Odds of winning $135,000 at fantasy sports||1 in 136,363||N/A|
|Odds of being struck by lightning||1 in 3,000||45 times more likely|
|Odds of becoming a pro athelete||1 in 22,000||6 times more likely|
|Odds of dating a supermodel||1 in 88,000||Twice as likely|
You Have a Bigger Chance of Becoming a Real Pro Athlete
As the table above shows, the odds of any one person making over $100,000 at fantasy football are one in 136,363. The odds of becoming an actual pro athlete are 1 in 22,000. That means its six times more likely you’ll actually go pro than go fantasy pro. By that logic, there might be a few real pros out there fantasizing about making it in the fantasy leagues.
While we’re talking unlikely events, the odds of being struck by lightning are only one in 3,000. That means it’s 45 times more likely you’ll get the old unexpected Zeus boost than cash in big on fantasy football. Odds of dating a supermodel? One in 88,000. That’s still twice as likely as making a lot of money playing fantasy football.
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Most Don’t Make Money on Fantasy Football
Only the top .0007% can expect to make over $100,000 in a season of daily fantasy sports. The rest of the top 1% don’t even do that well. They pull in only $2,400 in profits. While that’s not just hot dogs ‘n’ beer money, it’s certainly not a living wage.
14% Make beer money playing fantasy football. Their expected profit is less than $50 per season. A further 85% lose money. The good news is, for 80%, all they lose is their entry fees. That adds up to an average of $160 in losses per season. Another 5% are high rollers who stake big money and lose it. They can and do lose an average of $9,400 per season.
The table below shows how the number break down.
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Where Fantasy Football Players Make Big Money
A very tiny percentage of Fantasy football players make over $100,000 a year. Those players usually aren’t playing in their office league. The very small number of high dollar earners make their money on sites like FanDuel.com and DraftKings.com.
DraftKings boasts a guaranteed $1 billion in prizes to be won in 2015 and FanDuel advertises an expected $2 billion in payouts.
Why 85% of Fantasy Football Players Lose Money
Most fantasy football players won’t earn millions or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for the same reason the game it’s not technically gambling. Namely, it takes a lot of skill. Any contest that combines a high skill level with a lot of potential money will draw in highly skilled competitors who feed on the rest.
Straight up gambling, like poker, involves a high mix of luck and skill. Amateur John Dibella won a tidy $1.8 million dollar poker championship in 2012. We won’t see amateurs taking home big pots in fantasy football, any more than we’ll see amateur chess players winning tournaments or amateur boxers taking out Floyd Mayweather. That kind of thing only happens on the silver screen for a reason: in reality, games of skill are won by the skilled.
Beyond Skill: Automation in the Fantasy Football Money Game
The reason only a very few at the top of the fantasy football game are pulling down the big money paydays goes beyond mere skill. The big earning sharks have quite simply turned it into a job. Top earners reportedly spend 40 to 90 hours a week “playing” fantasy football. They enter hundreds of contests per day. The top-ranked fantasy sports player according to fantasy sports stats site Rotogrinders.com has a math degree from Amherst College and a professional background in data science.
Top players also use software to crunch stats, leaving mere mortals struggling to keep up. There are programs that change lineups in real time and even the now banned FanDuel Fish Finder. That program lets sharks identify weaker players to strip clean.
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Fantasy Football Site Execs Say the Money is Real
After all the above criticisms leveled at fantasy football’s mirage of big money, it’s only fair to let the companies themselves have a say. Execs aren’t blind to the dominance of a few sharks in the fantasy football arena. The companies are trying out ways to make fantasy football feel more winnable. They now limit the number of entries and cap big tournaments at 500 or 1,000 entries. They’ve also created rookie games open only to players without hundreds of contests under their belts.
Execs at both FanDuel and Draft Kings point out that drawing conclusions about fantasy football from fantasy baseball don’t hold up. For one thing, they claim baseball has more sharks than football. Why that would be true when the money and skill levels are similar is anyone’s guess. They also say drawing conclusions from half a season of data causes inaccuracies.
The Smart Money in Fantasy Football: Start Small
Top earning pros say starting small is the best way to get into fantasy football. Do it for fun. Risk $75 or $100 and see how you do. If you’re consistently earning money and winning, take it up a notch or two. The big takeaway is that it’s not a path to easy money. The people who earn high dollars at fantasy football are risking big money, they’re working long hours and they’re experts at statistical analysis. Everyone else is just a fish waiting to be shark food.