Jeff Wilser is the author of 7 books including Alexander Hamilton's Guide to Life, The Book of Joe: The Life, Wit, and (Sometimes Accidental) Wisdom of Joe Biden, and an Amazon Best Book of the Month in both Non-Fiction and Humor.

If you spend enough time in crypto, you’re bound to hear a well-worn cliche: “The space is so young, it’s like we’re in the early 1990s' internet.” Back then, according to this logic, the average person couldn’t see past the clunky interface of TCP/IP, and only a few bold dreamers could envision a world of e-commerce, global interconnectivity and stupid cat videos.

Allow me to introduce a fresher analogy: Crypto is now in the early ‘90s' version of fantasy football. I know because I was there. When I was a high school nerd in 1992, pre-internet, I read a magazine about this strange new concept and I convinced my friends to try it. No one else understood what we were doing. We were ahead of the Dork Curve. I used actual newspapers – they once came in print – to manually tabulate scores. My friends and I were obsessed, and I had a hunch that the world would eventually catch up.

Flash forward 30 years. The dorky fringe became the mainstream, and fantasy sports is now a $22 billion market. It turns out that fantasy football was sneaky-good at more than just enriching the National Football League experience: It helped build communities. Friends gathered for drafts. They talked trash. They punished each other with 15-hour trips to the Waffle House.

The point is that crypto and fantasy football are more alike than you would think – goofy-sounding interests that some find enthralling and others find off-putting. (And they’re both, of course, packed with bros.) So it felt like only a matter of time until a merger of crypto and fantasy football. That already started with the more global version of football, soccer, as I learned when reporting on the thriving ecosystem of Sorare. An NFL version seemed like a lock.

Keeping it simple

Enter DraftKings (the sports fantasy and gambling behemoth), and enter The Owners Club, a crypto fantasy football game co-founded by Justin Herzig, who had previously launched an NBA Top Shot analytics project called Own the Moment.

“This was built by fantasy players for fantasy players, with a ‘normie’-focused approach,” says Herzig, who adds that the goal was to minimize the appearance of blockchain technology, because “you had to make it simple, and you had to make it fun.”

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(Patrick Ogilvie/Unsplash)

The Owners Club (TOC) launched in 2021 for its beta season, and this week, it's kicking off Year 2. Here’s how it works. You buy a pack of five cards, and each card has a city and a “position group.” So your card might be “Tampa Bay Quarterbacks” or “Dallas Cowboys Running Backs.” This is an almost shockingly different format from traditional fantasy football, where you simply draft Tom Brady, not “Tampa Bay Quarterbacks.”

Herzig wanted to keep it simple. “There are no concerns about injuries. No concerns about your running back getting vultured,” Herzig says. “We found this is a far more fun gameplay. It’s less of a grind.”

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Crypto is now in the early ‘90s version of fantasy football
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There are five position groups: quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, tight ends and defense. (The kickers have been booted.) Each week, you submit a five-card lineup into a weekly contest. The better your lineup does, the more prize money you can win. (Two thousand players entered TOC’s inaugural season, Herzig said, winning a combined $1.5 million.)

The odds are that when you open your first pack, you’re probably going to be happy with only one or two of your cards. You might get a dud. So you can upgrade your squad by buying and selling these NFTs in the marketplace, and the value of these non-fungible tokens can (and likely will) change over time.

“It’s a liquid market,” explains Mark Poskarbiewicz, a 36-year-old corporate finance analyst who played in TOC’s first season. “The market is pretty abundant with options.”

The concept of “market liquidity’ might sound weedy and arcane, but for those who have played in the same fantasy football league for years, this can be a big deal. I’s one of the features that makes me bullish on the long-term potential of crypto fantasy football.

In my own fantasy football league, for example, we rarely do any actual trading. It just doesn’t happen. (I blame the behavioral economics theory of “loss aversion,” where people are irrationally reluctant to part with their assets and get embarrassed in front of their friends.)

True, you can improve your team on the margins on the waiver wire, but once you draft your team you’re more or less stuck. True shake-ups are rare. The wheeling and dealing of TOC’s NFT marketplace, in contrast, lets players like Poskarbiewicz stay more engaged and feel like frisky general managers.

Poskarbiewicz ended up winning Week 1 in 2021, and he was later flown by TOC (along with other winners) to Miami for the final weekly battle of the season at the FTX Arena (of course) . He hauled in around $5,000 over the season, but the main perk was less about the money and more about the ease and enjoyment of play.

“One of my first complaints of daily fantasy sports is that you need a stats degree,” Poskarbiewicz says.

Not cheap

Poskarbiewicz is disenchanted by the spreadsheets and data science required for leagues like FanDuel and DraftKings, where the “whales” can dominate. He thinks TOC brought the game back to fantasy football basics, and felt like more of an “everyman’s league.”

That last point is debatable. In 2021, the starting five-pack cost $200, and Herzig says the average player spent $1,000 when factoring in their upgrades. That’s an order of magnitude above the typical fantasy football buy-in of $100 to $200. (This year the price of a five-pack drops to $100, and a separate game called “Best Ball” has packs for $10; it’s unclear if that cheaper game will hold the same appeal.)

And TOC will now face competition. This year a new project called “League DAO” is launching its own version of crypto fantasy football, where “on-chain scoring is based on real-world stats.” Meanwhile, one of the juggernauts of the traditional fantasy football space, DraftKings, is quietly rolling out NFT-injected fantasy football, called Reignmakers.

Unlike TOC, DraftKings has a licensing agreement in place with NFL players, which allows for an NFT marketplace of player cards. (Here you can get a Tom Brady card.) Similar to the TOC model, you can buy packs of cards (each card is an NFT) and enter contests throughout the season.

You can get a starter pack for free, and then upgrade your roster with $9.99 or $19.99 packs, or splurge on packs that cost $2,000. DraftKings plans to dole out over $30 million in prizes to these NFT games, according to Matt Kalish, co-founder and president of DraftKings North America.

This could mean mass adoption. Even in the game’s infancy, Kalish says there are more than 10,000 transactions per day in the NFT marketplace. That’s only a tiny slice of DraftKings’ 4 million users, but the slice will almost certainly grow.

“This could be hundreds of thousands or millions of users,” says Kalish, who notes that “we don’t have any products that don’t have millions of users.”

Herzig is aware of the stiff competition, and he’s a fan. “I think it’s a great variation of NFT fantasy football,” says Herzig, who sees it as an accelerant to wider adoption. “Our hope is that they’re going to build a great product that’s going to introduce a ton of fantasy football fans into this space.”

I don’t have any insight or predictions about whether The Owners Club, League DAO, DraftKings, Sorare or some other project will emerge as the leading platform for crypto fantasy football. But as a fantasy football nerd who has morphed into a crypto nerd, the marriage feels inevitable. After all, we’re only in the early 1990s.

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Jeff Wilser is the author of 7 books including Alexander Hamilton's Guide to Life, The Book of Joe: The Life, Wit, and (Sometimes Accidental) Wisdom of Joe Biden, and an Amazon Best Book of the Month in both Non-Fiction and Humor.

CoinDesk - Unknown

Jeff Wilser is the author of 7 books including Alexander Hamilton's Guide to Life, The Book of Joe: The Life, Wit, and (Sometimes Accidental) Wisdom of Joe Biden, and an Amazon Best Book of the Month in both Non-Fiction and Humor.