It appears that fantasy sports are on the upswing in the U.S., coinciding with a general resurgence of interest in the National Football League following several years of decline.

After peaking at 54% in 2016, interest in the NFL fell steadily to 50% in 2018 in CivicScience’s data. At that point, the league was mired in the ongoing national anthem controversy

So far in 2019, though, interest has rebounded sharply, to the tune of 57% of Americans age 13 and up now saying they follow the league at least “a little”. 

Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans saying they’ve played fantasy sports has risen to 22% over the past two years after being stuck at 17% for a long time.

And while nothing’s written in stone, it’s fair to assume that interest in the NFL is a giant factor in the prevalence of fantasy sports. Fantasy players, after all, were more than three times as likely as non-fantasy players to say they follow the NFL “very closely”.

As far as gender goes, men outnumber women nearly three-to-one in the realm of fantasy sports. Men also outnumber women among NFL watchers, roughly 60-40.

When it comes to how old these fantasy sports players are, traditional generational buckets (Baby Boomers, Gen X, etc.) don’t tell the right story. In fact, the clearest dividing line is the age of 45:

When looking at NFL interest, though, the same rules don’t apply. Interest in the NFL generally increased alongside a respondent’s age. In fact, respondents from age 45 to age 65 were the most likely to be NFL fans in the past year of CivicScience’s data:

Given this unusual three-way relationship between fantasy sports, NFL interest, and age, it’s fair to wonder whether fantasy sports are driving some of the renewed interest in the NFL. Short answer — maybe a little bit.

Almost a quarter of fantasy players say they watch the NFL mainly to keep up with their fantasy team(s). NFL franchise loyalties apparently have less sway among fantasy players, too. And only 7% of them said they watch football to have fun with others (vs. 24% of non-players). On the flip side, though, fantasy players were 31% more likely than non-players to say they watch football because they’re interested in the sport. 

Taking A Closer Look at Fantasy Sports Players

Fantasy sports players are 40% more likely to play PC video games than non-fantasy players, and they’re likely to play more often. They’re also more than twice as likely to watch e-sports — that is, competitive video gaming:

Fantasy sports players tend to enjoy cannabis more often than non-players, too.

If this is all seeming too sedentary for you, don’t despair. Fantasy sports players are also much more likely than non-players to play actual, real-life sports as well, either in a league or in pickup games.

And finally, chances are good that you can spot at least a few fantasy sports players hanging out at a Buffalo Wild Wings on any given Sunday this fall. They’ve got plenty of big screens to keep up with the latest stats. 

It’s clear that fantasy football and the NFL have a symbiotic relationship. While the NFL could continue without fantasy football, the opposite couldn’t be true. But with nearly a quarter of fantasy sports players saying they watch the NFL mainly to keep up with their fantasy teams, fantasy sports may have a bigger role in that symbiosis than previously believed.