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ESPN’s Fantasy Success: It’s All Real

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A concerted, company-wide effort resulted in a record-setting year for ESPN Fantasy.

Growth of ESPN Fantasy: Like a Hockey Stick

According to the 2017 ESPN Sports Poll, fans who play fantasy sports are more likely to attend games, read sports news, watch sports highlights and spend money on sports compared to fans who aren’t fantasy players. Simply put, there are no more engaged and avid sports fans than those who play fantasy.

It’s no wonder then that as ESPN continues to focus on fantasy sports, ESPN Fantasy has taken a clear No. 1 position in the industry. In fact, ESPN Fantasy has exploded recently. Its total number of unique fans has nearly doubled over the last four years, with more than half of that growth occurring in the last 12 months. And on NFL Sundays, ESPN Fantasy accounts for more than half (53%) of all minutes consumed across ESPN Digital platforms.

With new and redesigned games, and a concerted, multi-platform effort drawing on resources from nearly every aspect of the company, ESPN Fantasy has expanded and reached new and younger audiences with every initiative it launched in the last year.

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Here are just a few of the highlights:

15 for 15: ESPN Fantasy Games Growing and Setting Records
In the last year, all 15 of ESPN Fantasy’s games enjoyed significant increases in number of players, with 14 of the 15 setting all-time records.

ESPN Fantasy App: One App Doing It All
As part of ESPN Digital’s less-is-more app strategy, ESPN Fantasy consolidated its major fantasy apps – football, baseball, basketball and hockey – into a single app in August of 2016. The results were immediate and record-breaking. Since the single ESPN Fantasy App was introduced, total players for ESPN Fantasy’s major games have increased significantly: Basketball is up +67% and Hockey is up +36%, while ESPN Streak is up +68% for 2017.

ESPN Fantasy App: Clearly No. 1
During its first four months – the peak of fantasy football September through December – the ESPN Fantasy App increased unique monthly fans by more than 76%, compared to ESPN’s single fantasy football app in 2015. This year the ESPN Fantasy App produced more minutes in September than the Yahoo Fantasy, NFL Fantasy, DraftKings, and CBS Fantasy apps combined. The ESPN Fantasy App was also the No. 1 fantasy app in September with 9.1 million unique users, 2.7 million more than the Yahoo Fantasy App at No. 2.

ESPN Fantasy App: Sticky for Loyal Fans
In October, the percentage of monthly unique fans who used the Fantasy App every day of the month – aka, daily active users – was 56%, the highest percentage ever recorded by ESPN Fantasy. Meanwhile, the Fantasy App’s total for monthly unique fans grew by nearly 10% over the previous year, and its current 4.7/5.0 App Store rating is the highest ever since the Fantasy App was launched in August 2016.

The Fantasy Show: Attracting New and Younger Audiences
Since its debut in August, The Fantasy Show with Matthew Berry has accounted for nearly half of the 40% growth in video starts enjoyed by the ESPN Fantasy App, compared to 2016. Nearly 20% of The Fantasy Show audience is between the ages of 18-24, which is more than 2X the ESPN average. Also, the median household income of The Fantasy Show viewers is $72,000, more than $20,000 more than the average television audience and slightly higher than ESPN’s average.

Fantasy Marathons: Unprecedented Scale
Putting the full weight of ESPN’s television production and promotion behind ESPN Fantasy games, the Fantasy Football Marathon and Tournament Challenge Marathon have been nothing less than a huge success. The second 28-hour Fantasy Football Marathon last August resulted in 2,054,076 teams drafted, beating the total from the first Fantasy Football Marathon in 2016 by more than 300,000. Meanwhile, the Tournament Challenge Marathon in March pushed ESPN to collect more than 10 million brackets, including its largest one-day total ever with 4,211,200.

ESPN Fantasy Football: No. 1 and Still Growing
ESPN Fantasy Football, which already has more players than any other fantasy football game, set new records in 2017 for total number of players and number of players returning to the game from the previous year. Moreover, the number of ESPN League Manager teams grew by 8% over 2016, which puts ESPN Fantasy Football in position for more growth next season.

ESPN Fantasy Basketball: On a Fastbreak
Following its 62% growth last year, ESPN Fantasy Basketball is on pace for another huge season for 2017-18. As part of this growth, ESPN hired Dr. André Snellings to be its first ever full-time Fantasy Basketball analyst to help develop the same depth of content and experience enjoyed by ESPN Fantasy Football and Baseball players.

ESPN Streak: On a Roll
Since the re-designed and re-imagined ESPN Streak was launched inside the ESPN Fantasy App in June, the game has added 1 million new players and set all-time records for monthly unique players each of the last three months – August, September, October – with more than 800,000 per month. In October, the game was up +72% in unique users over last year.

Tournament Challenge: ESPN’s Own March Madness
ESPN’s Tournament Challenge game, by far the most popular NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament game, collected a record 18.8 million completed brackets last March, surpassing the previous mark set last year at 13.0 million. Also, the ESPN Second Chance Tournament Challenge game, which allows fans to start fresh at the start of the Sweet 16 round of the tournament, and the ESPN Women’s Tournament Challenge, enjoyed huge increases in total brackets, up +40% and +79%, respectively.

Bachelor and Bachelorette Games: Reaching New Fans
ESPN Fantasy began 2017 with the introduction of The Bachelor Fantasy League, which it developed with sister company ABC. Of course, The Bachelorette Fantasy League followed, and the two games were played by more than 700,000 users, 75% of whom were women.

IBM Watson on ESPN Fantasy Football
ESPN Fantasy and IBM began a partnership this month to bring new insights to fantasy football players, powered by IBM’s Watson decision-support technology. With help from ESPN, Watson has been “learning” fantasy football and is now analyzing historical stats and thousands of articles and posts to determine probability of potential breakout games, poor performances, and likelihood for injured players to suit up each week.  Fans will find these insights in ESPN fantasy articles, The Fantasy Show with Matthew Berry, social media, and on ESPN.com player profiles as they head down the home stretch of their league.

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