YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Bill Plaschke

L.A. fans are right at home in fantasyland

August 29, 2008|Bill Plaschke

For a 14th consecutive season, the NFL will not field a team in Los Angeles.

But that's OK, because, for the 14th consecutive season, I will.

My guys reported Wednesday night, ready for next week's season opener, no messy exhibition games, no nasty holdouts.

My guys didn't report on some distant field I can only see with binoculars, but in a bright box a few inches from my nose.

I didn't need to fight traffic to find them. I didn't need to sell a kidney to afford to see them. I only had to walk to the kitchen table and turn on a computer and there they were.

The Mute Points. Those are my guys. That's my team.

It's not the NFL, but they are all NFL players, and they play a full NFL schedule, and I can watch every game on NFL weekends.

I can cheer for them. I can scream at them. I can win with them. And by the end of the year, in a way that is no different than fans in Cleveland slobbering over a 300-pound stranger simply because he wears an orange helmet, I can even bond with them.

It's a billion-dollar industry known as fantasy football.

But for those of us in the biggest city in the country with no team, it's reality football.

Only better.

"Who needs the NFL here?" said Tom Russo, veteran Los Angeles television executive and fantasy player. "Football fans have everything we need without it."

Twenty-five years ago, fantasy sports were geek sports, basement sports, loser sports.

Today, with teams becoming more economically distant from their fan base, it's more fun to root for individual players, making fantasy mainstream.

The players play it -- Washington Redskins tight end Chris Cooley has been in four leagues at once.

The coaches coach it -- former Chicago Bears guru Mike Ditka is launching a new online league.

The personnel folks consult on it -- longtime league executive Mike Lombardi gives his advice on a site.

There are countless television shows devoted to it, and constant television tickers paying homage to it, and endless websites making money from it.

Fantasy football has become so popular, it is one of the reasons, however minor, that Los Angeles has no real team.

The first reason is that television doesn't need a team here, the ratings are just fine without one.

The second reason is that there is no NFL-ready stadium here, and no support for tax money to build one.

The third reason is that there is simply no grass-roots support for a team here.

And a footnote to that third reason is, in recent years, who needs someone else's team when you can build your own?

"You combine the lack of a stadium, the lack of a fan base, and then throw in the fantasy thing, it really makes people not care about an NFL team very much here," said Mike Goldberg, a local management consultant who also plays fantasy football.

For the uninitiated few, fantasy football is a game where you pick real players, combine their real statistics, assign point values to those statistics, and compete against other owners doing the same thing.

It turns a complicated team sport into a simple individual sport. Fantasy owners don't cheer for teams to win, they cheer for players to score.

You might not care about the Dallas Cowboys, but if Tony Romo is your quarterback, you will watch their games to holler for only him.

Then when the Cowboys are on defense, you will turn the channel to find another one of your players.

My fantasy team has 15 players wearing 14 different uniforms, so my "game" will often be played from 10 a.m. Sunday until late Monday night.

Instead of cheering for three hours, I will be cheering for two days.

"When the Rams and Raiders were here, I felt beholden to them because they were always on TV," Goldberg said. "Now that they're gone, you can watch and cheer for the whole league."

This is one reason DirecTV not only offers satellite coverage of every game every week, but also has a channel devoted only to live accounts of every touchdown or field goal in every game.

For many fans in Los Angeles and other towns where there is no NFL, that's our stadium.

"Fantasy football is here to stay," said Eric Shanks, executive vice president for DirecTV entertainment. "It's not about football geeks anymore. Everyone plays it."

DirecTV has even invented a service where fantasy players can input their roster into the television set and receive constant personalized scoring updates on their screen.

By then, fantasy players have sat through a week of written and televised previews dedicated not so much to teams, but to which players on those teams are going to have high-scoring games, and which players should be avoided.

The pervading question in today's NFL isn't, "Who's going to win?"

The pervading question is, "Start him, or sit him?"

For a 14th consecutive season, when it comes to the NFL in Los Angeles, the answer is easy.

Start your fantasy guys. Sit the real ones.


Bill Plaschke can be reached at To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to

Los Angeles Times Articles