Don’t think; just name the first thing that comes to mind. Why do you enjoy watching the NFL? What makes it exciting for you?
I bet a lot of you answered along the lines of “fantasy football.” Many of you may even play in multiple leagues. You probably have one going in the office, you know, to keep things interesting among coworkers, one with your close group of friends and then, for you more serious fantasy folks out there, one big money league that is a mishmash of friends, friends’ friends, and some random fantasy stats geek.1 And let’s not forget the week-to-week league you play in because the other season-long leagues that currently eat up three hours of your workday aren’t enough to satisfy your fantasy fix. Football only lasts five months; that’s barely enough to really start enjoying the experience.
In 2013, Forbes estimated the Fantasy Football industry’s worth at around $70 billion. Yes, billion, 70… billion… dollars! The industry has become so massive that it has fundamentally changed the game of football to cater to the casual and fantasy football fan. Consider some of the rule changes the NFL has made over the past decade, such as more protections for quarterbacks and wide receivers, and pass interference has become so commonplace that a QB under pressure—rather than throw out of bounds—is more likely to throw a risky pass and cross his fingers that the defensive player breathes too heavily on the intended receiver. Sunday morning ESPN has gone from four hours of football Xs and Os (they never really did that) to four hours of fantasy stats, who you should start today, who’s the last-minute sleeper you might be able to snag off the free-agent market, and which players you should avoid due to questionable injuries.
But what amazes me most about fantasy football and its near omnipresence is its reliance on APIs. Think about how you play fantasy football. Is it something you just play on your desktop computer? Stupid question, right? Fantasy football never sleeps, and I bet you take it with you everywhere you go. You probably have multiple apps on your phone and tablet dedicated to fantasy, right? One for your Yahoo league, your ESPN, a couple for your FanDuel-type leagues… we both know the list goes on. APIs and their flexibility is what give developers the tools to build out those mobile fantasy experiences for you. Without APIs, you wouldn’t have been able to pick up a bridge quarterback for Roethlisberger on your iPhone during brunch with the family. And without that mobile experience, you wouldn’t have been able to make that last-minute roster change from the parking lot of the stadium when you saw your starting flex player was out with a groin injury.
APIs are more than just a means of bringing you fantasy football on virtually every screen. They can be used to manage the fundamental underpinnings of the industry itself. I’m talking about stats, and, my, are there many stats to cover. Receptions, yards, touchdowns, throwing, receiving, rushing, interceptions, field goals from 20-30 yards, from 30-40 yards, from 40-50, from 50 and over, fumbles, injury reports, projections, projections compared to output… the list goes on and on and on, and you need all of it. You need it all right now, not three seconds ago!
The amount of information flying around in the fantasy world is staggering. APIs are an essential tool that gets all of that fantasy goodness from the field to your laptop, your phone, YOUR TV SCREEN! If you need an analogy, the database is the quarterback, the screen is the end zone, and the running back that just got the ball is the API. GO-GO-GO COME ON API! I’ve got to beat Bill in Accounting!
Sorry, got a bit carried away there, but you get the idea. The next time you make that last-minute save plugging in a flyer, don’t thank the dispassionate fantasy gods, thank your nearest developer and the API she used to feed you those stats everyone else seemed to miss.
Not that you needed another reason to love APIs. Without APIs, your Sunday just wouldn’t be the same. Well, your Sundays, Mondays, Thursdays… really, Thursdays too? We’re keeping with this failed experiment that produces sloppy football? We most certainly are. It puts football in primetime and adds another wrinkle to the fantasy game; yet another way fantasy has changed the NFL. For me, it’s a bit of a love/hate relationship. On the one hand, I love APIs and am amazed by the role they play in an industry that has exploded over the past couple of years. On the other, seeing how one-sided fantasy has made the actual play of football has been tough to watch. At the end of the day, I am a purist and enjoy watching a defense play a little defense here and there. I’m only in my 20s and already feel like I can say the words “back in my day” to describe a sport that actually delineates a different game. But, hey, I know I am in the minority here and I otherwise love APIs, so I’ll let you get back to your fantasy research (I mean, uhh, preparing that TPS report, because you’re totally working and not trying to trade DeMarco Murray) and I’ll go back to yelling at those young hooligans to get off my lawn. Thanks to APIs, fantasy football is here to stay.
1 If you only loosely know one of the guys in your big money league, you’re the lone wolf in that last category. It’s okay, nothing to be ashamed of. Embrace it and be the wild card of the group making underhanded trades, vetoing legitimate ones, and starting up rumors of coercion and backroom deals generating mistrust among the ranks. Go all Game of Thrones on them. They’re not really your friends anyway and you can easily find a new league next season when that fragile alliance of big money league friends bounces you off the island.