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Berry foresees great growth for fantasy sports; ESPN’s 28-hour FF Marathon begins tonight

ESPN’s Senior Fantasy Analyst Matthew Berry, in the tuxedo, asks fans to spread the word about fantasy sports. (Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)
ESPN’s senior fantasy analyst Matthew Berry, wearing the tuxedo, asks fans to spread the word about fantasy sports. (Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)

If you are one of the more than 50 million people playing fantasy sports, Matthew Berry has a job for you: Make fantasy sports even bigger. Among the multitude of insights, statistics, advice, random stories and jokes, and over-the-top, self-serving promotion (his words) in his annual Draft Day Manifesto, Berry implores all of us to encourage just one person to play.

Huddle Up: FF Marathon programming details

ESPN and ESPN2 will televise the 28-hour ESPN Fantasy Football Marathon presented by Draft Kings in preparation for the 2016 NFL season. The first-time programming initiative – starting tonight at 7 p.m. ET and running through Tuesday, Aug. 16 at 11 p.m. – will feature Fantasy Football specials in primetime both nights, segments on multiple editions of SportsCenter, and Fantasy Football-themed editions of popular ESPN shows, including First Take, Mike & Mike, His & Hers, SportsNation and NFL Live. For more details, visit ESPN MediaZone.

“You know how much fun, how awesome, how addicting fantasy football is,” he writes. “You know how it brings people together. So why keep it all to yourself? Make it your goal to convince one person in your life who has never played before to try a league this year. We need more women playing, more kids, more senior citizens. Fantasy football is something everyone can enjoy, so ask your parents, your kids, your neighbor, co-worker, someone. Just one person. Come on. Help me spread the word.”

Makes sense.

It’s essentially what Berry does every day as ESPN’s senior fantasy analyst and what he’ll continue to do for years to come, having recently signed an extension to remain at ESPN through 2021. Front Row checked in with Berry as we head into a new fantasy football season:

[espnpull align=”left”]One of the first things I did when I came to ESPN was host a fantasy draft for senior management because all of them play fantasy football and they really care about it. So the interest and growth of fantasy sports at ESPN really starts from the top down.
– Matthew Berry[/espnpull]

What do you think accounts for fantasy sports’ tremendous growth in general and for ESPN in particular?
Fantasy sports isn’t rocket science. It’s fun! We’re a country that likes to do fun things, and when people discover fantasy sports, they realize how fun it is, and they say, “Now I know why everyone else is into this.” People realize it isn’t just for stat geeks. It’s for anyone: kids, moms, grandparents, people of all ages. Everyone plays it.

I think ESPN has had a tremendous role in making fantasy sports accessible to more and more fans over the years, making people realize it’s something for everyone. One of the first things I did when I came to ESPN was host a fantasy draft for senior management because all of them play fantasy football and they really care about it. So the interest and growth of fantasy sports at ESPN really starts from the top down. But more than that, ESPN has promoted fantasy sports, and we’ve worked really hard on it because everyone here knows how important fantasy sports is to our fans.

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Describe what it takes to be the senior fantasy analyst at ESPN.

I get a tremendous amount of help and support from a lot of people at ESPN who work on our various platforms. But we’re still a small group, and we’re able to do a lot of stuff because we all work really hard. My columns and rankings are heavily researched, and they take a lot of time to write. So just writing columns and doing rankings is a full-time job. And that’s before I do even one podcast, which I do every day.

During the football season, I’m in the office every day except Saturday, but I’m on TV for four hours on Sundays, so I spend Saturday nights preparing for Sunday. I also do Fantasy Football Now and Sunday Countdown and NFL Insiders and various TV hits on SportsCenter, NFL Live and various video and other random things that always pop up. So, I literally work seven days a week. It’s overwhelming, because in addition to executing all those things you need time to research and to read and to talk to people and check sources.

In general, fantasy lends itself to more details and analysis in terms of specific numbers and extra layers and research. But, I’m not complaining! I don’t really have a job if you know what I mean. I get to do fantasy football at the Worldwide Leader in Sports! I’m truly blessed and lucky. But, there is definitely a lot of work that goes into having this much fun.

[espnpull align=”left”]If you would have told me even five years ago that ESPN would to turn over nearly 30 consecutive hours of its programming to fantasy football, I would have said you’re nuts.
– Berry on the Aug. 15-16 ESPN Fantasy Football Marathon plan[/espnpull]

What is your take on the future of fantasy sports? What’s next for people living the “fantasy life”?
I think the future is bright for people who play fantasy sports. Technology is one thing that has really grown fantasy. This will sound like a shameless plug, but our new ESPN Fantasy app is awesome, and I think content and the game and the lifestyle of fantasy sports will continue to integrate itself into everything we do.

For example, this Fantasy Marathon thing tonight and tomorrow is crazy to me. If you would have told me even five years ago that ESPN would to turn over nearly 30 consecutive hours of its programming to fantasy football, I would have said you’re nuts. So I’m super excited about it, and I think we’re in store a lot more of all this. More ways to enjoy fantasy sports. More acceptance of fantasy by more and more people. More fun!

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