This professional football season will be a little different for Danielle Harris.
She has a team to build, roster moves to make and – she hopes – trophies to hoist. She’s a fantasy football rookie, but the Martinez resident has never felt closer to the sport.
“I actually have a buy-in now. I’m actually learning more about stats and about the individual players,” said Harris, who is the only woman competing in her church league. “You are like a manager of a team, so you kind of have to know when to bench players. It’s more than just watching the game.”
Harris is one of several million women who will coach mythical teams this football season, bolstering a demographic that has seen exponential growth in recent years.
In a recent report, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimated that women now comprise about 34 percent of the 56.8 million fantasy sports participants in the U.S. and Canada, up from about 8 percent four years ago.
The number of participants – male and female – has doubled in that same period, but Stacie Stern, who serves on the FSTA board of directors, said that she thinks fantasy leagues are gaining popularity among women because of the rise of fantasy sports information being shared online and in print.
“All the information out there is a great equalizer,” said Stern. “With that information comes power and knowledge, and the ability for a woman to feel like she can compete. I think that was a barrier for a long time.”
Stern said she belongs to several fantasy leagues, one of which is managed by women.
The wealth of information inspired Augusta resident Allison Greene, who will be competing in her fourth fantasy football season starting on Thursday when the Pittsburgh Steelers visit the New England Patriots.
A lifelong Chicago Bears fan, Greene said she decided to join the fantasy football movement after seeing the excitement it brought to her friends. Prior to her first season, she wasn’t interested in watching other National Football League games. Last year, she brought her iPad to an Atlanta Falcons-Chicago Bears game to keep up with her team.
“All of a sudden, it went from watching one football game to watching every single football game,” said Greene, who manages two teams. “I guess that’s what makes it exciting – it just takes football to another level of intensity. I know this sounds silly, but it does make football even more exciting than it already is.”
A report by the FTSA found that 61 percent of fantasy participants say they’re watching more live sports because of fantasy. More than 70 percent said football was their favorite fantasy sport.
David Hunt, an associate professor of sociology at Georgia Regents University, said he thinks fantasy football has grown in popularity because it appeals to everyone regardless of athletic prowess, particularly women, who are less likely to have played the sport.
“Women are now able to compete in that same arena because it is not based on physical abilities, it’s based on your analysis,” he said, adding that more people are beginning to watch football to see how individuals perform rather than teams.
Though women were slow to adopt fantasy sports as a hobby, they shouldn’t be mistaken as being inept in managing a fantasy team, Stern said. Greene was one win away from getting her first championship trophy last year in a league dominated by men.
“I think there has been this misnomer that women aren’t as competitive as men,” Stern said. “I disagree. I wholeheartedly want to beat the pants off of everyone I play against.”