Fantasy goes female: More women are joining fantasy football leagues
Fantasy goes female Fargo - Last year at this time, Danielle Naboulsi barely knew the difference between a cornerback and a quarterback.
This football season, however, she's already talking like a pro, and a friendly workplace competition is to thank.
"I'm a certified fantasy football freak at this point," Naboulsi, a 25-year-old creative writer at Fargo's Sundog who plays in a league with about a dozen of her co-workers.
Fantasy football, a long-time sports fan pastime that allows regular Joes (and Jills) to draft real NFL players and manage a make-believe team each week, continues to gain popularity.
In 2010, 25 million people played fantasy football, with women making up a healthy 20 percent chunk of that population, said Paul Charchian, president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
The reasons for taking up a make-believe franchise where players earn points based on how their drafted players fare in actual NFL games vary, said Charchian of Minneapolis, who also hosts "Fantasy Football Weekly" radio show at 10 a.m. Saturdays on 740 The Fan.
In general, men tend to be more competitive and in it to win, while women are looking for more of the social component that gives them some water-cooler material for Monday morning, he said.
"Not to say that women aren't trying to win," Charchian said. "What they get out of the pastime just tends to be a little bit different."
Naboulsi joined one of Sundog's two leagues last year as a way to get to know her co-workers better.
"It's a fun way to throw in a little smack talk here and there," said Naboulsi, who was in third place in her league last week.
Jim Heilman, a fellow Sundog player and 30-year fantasy football veteran, said having Danielle in the league helps the group keep competition light.
Sundog has six women participating this year, including last year's returning champion, Heilman said.
While Naboulsi found her love for the game recently, it's been a fun way to get more co-workers involved.
"I don't know if she knows the X's and O's of the game per se, but definitely talks trash," Heilman said with a laugh.
For Beth DuFault, a 44-year-old from Fargo who is the only female in a league with her husband and his friends, fantasy football is all about the competition.
"I've been a football fan my whole life," she said. "I'm very competitive."
DuFault started fantasy football about 15 years ago when the all-men's league was looking to fill an opening.
"And probably regretfully now, they invited me to join," said DuFault, a two-time champion, which gives her "incredible bragging rights."
"I love being able to hang with them and surprise them, and let them know, 'Hey I do know a little something about football,' " she said.
Sundays at the DuFault household resemble the War of the Roses with one spouse often pouting while the other gloats, she said.
"It's just fun," said DuFault, a Vikings fan. "It makes Sundays fun, sometimes to the point of agony because you can't look at a game just for the joy of watching.
As a woman, DuFault said she tends to have a bit of a different view toward the game than men, DuFault said.
Men tend to get more analytical and just look at the sheer numbers when selecting and playing players, she said.
"Yes, I do look at that, but there are some times when I say, 'I don't like the guy, and I will not draft him.' ... I don't know if that's to my detriment or not," she said.
But the payoff is sometimes bigger than the newly found credibility in a "man's world."
Not every fantasy league uses hard cash as an incentive to win, but knowing the ins and outs of the gridiron has paid off for DuFault in the past. In a different league a few years back, winning the championship meant DuFault was able to purchase and crib and changing table for her baby nursery.
"The pot at the end of the rainbow for all your hard work and the smack talk that goes on makes it worth it," DuFault said. "I can see me playing it 20 years from now."
By the numbers:
In 2010 there were:
34 million total fantasy sports players
25 million fantasy football players
About 5 million female fantasy footballers
8 percent of all of ESPN Fantasy Football players were women. A number that is up 31 percent from the 2009 season