Field Yates thinks fantasy football is catching up in popularity to the real thing.
“If you watch ‘SportsCenter though to the end, I’d bet if you put on an hour, there’s a pretty good chance, better than 50-50 you’re going to see at least one segment of fantasy sports,” he says in a recent interview.” I think it’s reflective of the appetite fans have for this type of content.”
ESPN has signed Yates to a new multi-year deal, ensuring he’ll be around to host both the daily “Fantasy Focus Football Podcast” as well as “Fantasy Football Now,” while contributing NFL analysis across several ESPN programs.
“Field is the epitome of versatility,” says Scott Clark, vice president of fantasy and betting content for ESPN, in a statement. “He is a rare talent that can move seamlessly from host to analyst to insider, from NFL Live to Fantasy, from on-air work to written columns, and from podcasts to social media. He is a master across everything we do at ESPN, and we are thrilled that he will continue to be a big part of our NFL and Fantasy content for years to come.”
More of the nation’s big sports-media outlets are boosting their coverage of fantasy sports, largely in the belief that fantasy fans are likely to take up legalized sports betting as more states give a nod to the activity. Betting “only adds to the popularity of fantasy football,” says Yates. “Maybe they are not necessarily the same, but they are like cousins who are exceptionally close to each other.”
NBC Sports this season placed fantasy sports expert Matthew Berry, a former ESPN staffer, on the team at its “Football Night In America” pre-game show — one of the most-watched programs on broadcast TV. It’s another signal of the networks’ eagerness to cater more to crowds likely to delve into stats and roster moves, and turn that information, potentially, into a wager.
ESPN says more than 11 million fans signed up to play fantasy football on its properties this season, with, 9.2 million unique visitors taking part on the ESPN Fantasy App during Sunday of the first week of the football season.
Before joining ESPN in 2012, Yates spent two seasons on the scouting and coaching staffs of the Kansas City Chiefs, following four summers as an intern in the New England Patriots front office. In his early days at ESPN, podcasts were the primary vehicle for fantasy-sports coverage, but that has evolved into a portfolio of different programs across audio and video platforms. While he acknowledges ESPN’s fantasy venues “have got a separate niche of hardcore fans,” they are rabidly interested in their favorite sports. ESPN personalities like Adam Schefter routinely pay visits to fantasy programs to discuss the latest moves in the NFL.
Fantasy fans may “gravitate to football the most,” Yates says, but other sports are getting attention from them as well. Among fantasy enthusiasts, “more and more sports are popping up.”