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They gather in home rec rooms, rental halls, bars or the suites of luxury hotels to play. To some, it’s more fun than holidays or birthdays.  Now, with almost 30 million players, Fantasy Football, an NFL-statistics-based betting game, has gripped the country.  And no one knows more about this multi-billion dollar craze than Fantasy Football’s pied piper, Matthew Berry. The ESPN Fantasy Sports Analyst takes 60 MINUTES SPORTS cameras into a world of elite Fantasy drafts, including those held by the Howard Stern Show’s staff and the St. Louis Cardinals, to show why the game he says “saved my life” has become so big.  Correspondent Sharyn Alfonsi reports on the phenomenon of Fantasy Football on the next edition of 60 MINUTES SPORTS, Wednesday, Oct. 2 at 10:00 PM, ET/PT only on SHOWTIME.

Berry was a Hollywood screenwriter whose marginal success made him frustrated.  Then, he found pleasure in writing about Fantasy Football, a game in which groups of individuals “draft” real NFL players for their fantasy teams and use those players’ on-field statistics to accumulate points in pursuit of a pot of cash.  As the Internet spawned websites that could tabulate the essential statistics, Fantasy Football grew wildly and Berry created his own site.  It became so successful that ESPN bought it from him and hired him to be their senior director of fantasy sports.

“Fantasy sports saved my life. Without fantasy sports, Sharyn… I’m not at ESPN… I don’t meet my wife. Without fantasy sports, I don’t have my daughters. I don’t have my family,” says Berry, the father of twin girls.

Everyone’s getting into Fantasy Football, says Berry, a pastime that a decade ago was played mostly by self-described nerds obsessed with statistics.  “I definitely think it’s cool now…Jay-Z plays fantasy sports…I assure you, he’s not a nerd,” says Berry, whose player picks and predictions are sought by Jay-Z and other celebrities like Seth Meyers. He even gets to mingle with such stars — an unlikely scenario for a self-described geek.  “In what universe should I ever be hanging out with Jay-Z?…But I got to do that because of fantasy sports…that should never have happened,” he tells Alfonsi.

Part of Fantasy Football’s popularity stems from the money involved. Players enter a league by anteing up cash that goes into a pot that’s won at the end of the NFL season. Five-figure pots are not uncommon.  Among celebrities and other wealthy people, pots may even be larger. Berry knows of one Wall Street league where the entry is $100,000 and the pot is a million dollars.  There are even professional Fantasy Football players who can earn a generous living playing in high-stakes leagues. Alfonsi goes to La Vegas to meet some of Fantasy Football’s high rollers.

Camaraderie is another factor.  Each season, players meet to “draft” their virtual teams and some drafts can be elaborate parties in places like Las Vegas. “It’s only the best day of the year,” says Berry.  Berry says draft day is better than holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, but concedes it doesn’t compare to the birth of his children. “All right, not better than the day my twins were born. Nice try, Sharyn.”

The NFL has never been more popular and continues to grow. Many believe Fantasy Football is partially responsible, as it has given fans a lot more to root for than just the home team.

Posted by:TV By The Numbers

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