By Bill O’Boyle -

Yahoo! has always been at the fantasy forefront

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WILKES-BARRE — Back in 1999, there weren’t a lot of Fantasy Football websites or magazines for that matter. Most information was acquired from typical sports sites that just talked about players and teams — rarely was there mention of one’s “Fantasy value.”

That has changed dramatically over the last 15 years or so and Yahoo! Sports is one of the main reasons for that.

I talked to Kenneth Fuchs, vice president/publisher of products for Yahoo! Sports. Back in 1998, Yahoo! saw what few had noticed up to that point — that there was growing interest in Fantasy Football.

And grow it has, to the point that there are millions and millions of Fantasy Football players all over the globe. And Yahoo! has grown along with the interest.

Fuchs told me there is such interest in Fantasy sports —football being the biggest — the Yahoo! site receives thousands of hits per second. These are people that perhaps began waiting for Monday’s USA Today to get results to tally their Fantasy scores, but who now want the information instantly.

Fantasy Football fanatics want to know the status of players, their scoring trends against particular teams and defenses, the likelihood of “targets” or “touches” so they can submit their most competitive lineups.

Fuchs said Fantasy Football is all about friends competing against each other each week. And getting that slight advantage, that little slice of information that maybe their friend/opponent hasn’t seen is what could make the difference in a game.

It’s really that competitive and it’s really that statistical. And having that information available on sites like Yahoo! sports is critical.

Fuchs wouldn’t tell me how many Fantasy players Yahoo! has, only saying its in the “tens of millions.” He said some 57 million people will play Fantasy sports in 2015. with much of the growth occurring since 2011 due to the advent of mobile apps for cell phones.

Fuchs said there will continue to be growth and Yahoo! is always working on newer, better mobile initiatives.

Fuchs is from Chicago and grew up a Bears fan. He said with the recent non-success of the NFL team, Fantasy Football offers him the chance to cheer for someone, even though it may be a Bears’ opponent.

That’s the social aspect of Fantasy Football, Fuchs said. It’s played, mostly, between friends.

“It builds competition,” Fuchs said. “It creates conversation. It’s social just by its nature.”

And as friends get through school, find jobs and move about the country, they can still connect through Fantasy Football leagues. The game allows friends to compete even though they are miles, or sometimes continents apart.

Fuchs said having all NFL games available on TV has helped grow Fantasy as well. Participants can actually follow all NFL teams and get scoring results and other stats through a variety of TV packages or networks. It’s all out there and it’s out there the second it happens.

It’s to Yahoo! Sports’ credit that it recognized this growing phenomena back in 1998 and capitalized on it. Fuchs said Yahoo! is always looking to provide more value to what people are interested in and Fantasy sports fits that bill.

Fuchs said Yahoo! saw the rising interest, the increasing passion and rising number of Fantasy participants. And so Yahoo! went about to provide all those stats and instant informational items that Fantasy followers wanted.

Fuchs said Fantasy Football is not going away anytime soon. He and his 9-year-old son play in a fathers and sons league. He said the sons are amazing to watch with their mobile devices and their technical savvy.

“They’re so knowledgeable,” Fuchs said. “And they talk smack to.”

Just like all Fantasy Football players.

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

By Bill O’Boyle

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.