What Fantasy Football Means to Hollywood

7:40 AM PST 08/11/2011 by Paul Bond
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Peter Yang

Actors and execs are among the 27 million sucked in as the recession-proof, $1 billion-a-year craze keeps growing, fueling record nfl ratings, websites, radio shows and an insatiable national obsession.

In Knocked Up, Paul Rudd's Pete is hooked on fantasy sports to the point he hides his participation in the pastime from his wife. It's somewhat biographical given the actor's penchant for fantasy football and his wife's disdain for how the hobby consumes him.

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"As soon as fantasy comes around, I'm on websites going: 'Oh, what's my draft position? Do I go running back, or do I try to maybe mix it up and draft a quarterback in the first round, which I've never done?' And then I'll stop myself and say, 'God, what is wrong with me?' " says Rudd. "One of the big complaints that my wife would have with me was she'd say, 'I'm so sick of looking at your back,' because I was just on the computer."

Then he adds: "And I don't think I'm alone here."

Hardly. Fantasy sports in general and football in particular have exploded since enthusiasts took their hobby online. This year, Americans will spend $600 million to $1 billion on fantasy football, depending on how you massage the math (does a subscriber of DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket count, since its NFL RedZone channel is a favorite among fantasy players?). Any way you slice it, though, the entertainment conglomerates are prime beneficiaries, not only because fantasy players are driving NFL TV ratings to record highs but because their sports websites are where fantasy leagues are managed.

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Rudd will next be seen in Our Idiot Brother, due Aug. 26 from the Weinstein Co., playing a loafer whose idealism manages to wreak havoc on the lives of his loved ones. His co-stars, Elizabeth Banks and Zooey Deschanel, have also been known to engage in fantasy football. And Rudd's also working on a sequel to Knocked Up, where his character is still hooked on fantasy sports.

"It's just so super nerdy. It sucks," Rudd, 42, says about fantasy football. "I wish I didn't like it as much as I do. It's a sickness."

And a collective one at that. Fantasy football is where a dozen or so friends form a league and choose their teams by "drafting" NFL players and competing for points -- and most times cash -- based on the gridiron success of the real players each week. So popular is the pastime that, as America approaches the first game of the 2011 NFL season on Sept. 8 -- when the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers play the previous year's champs, the New Orleans Saints -- you can expect to hear conversations of fantasy draft strategies anywhere fans might gather. Even on a movie or TV set.

"I'm a junkie," says Entourage actor Jerry Ferrara, one of many celebrities who, like 27 million other North Americans, will play fantasy football this year. It's a pastime with legions of Hollywood fans, including Jason Bateman and Seth Meyers. Some even play publicly, like Cheers alumnus Jay Thomas, whose league includes Playboy Playmate Pilar Lastra and wrestler Mike "The Miz" Mizanin. Their league's draft party at the Hard Rock Cafe in Times Square this year was streamed live over SiriusXM Satellite Radio -- on a channel dedicated to fantasy sports, no less.

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Even NFL players are fantasy enthusiasts, like Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who hosts his own show on the topic called Runnin' With MJD on SiriusXM, and Tennessee Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who a couple of years ago famously "benched" himself in his fantasy league so he could start Brett Favre. Wouldn't you know it, Hasselbeck threw four touchdowns that week and scored more fantasy points than any other quarterback.

 

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