Luck is more important than fantasy sports players think


Fantasy sports players can spend thousands of dollars and certainly that many hours developing sophisticated leagues and playing strategies steeped in analysis and superstition — all for teams that aren’t real.

What is real is the fact that most fantasy sport players overestimate the role of skill and knowledge in building a winning team, and underestimate the role of luck.

Forming a good team definitely requires skill and knowledge, but a new study shows that fantasy sports players believe they have much more control over the outcome of games than they actually do, said Dae Hee Kwak, assistant professor of kinesiology.

“Building a winning fantasy team may involve a lot of strategic decisions, but control over team building does not necessarily increase control over athletes’ on-field performance,” Kwak said.

Researchers produced this illusory control over outcome in study test players with relative ease, Kwak said. Scientists showed experienced players one of several mock advertisements for a fantasy baseball subscription service. After only one exposure to an ad promising players more control over things like team building or more expert analysis, players said they thought they had a better chance of winning.

Kwak said that players gave the fake subscription service high marks without even trying the actual service, and higher ratings could ultimately lead to new subscribers and higher revenues for the burgeoning industry.

According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, fantasy sports is one of the fastest growing industries in the country, with 7.8 percent annual growth projected over five years, to $1.8 billion. Last year, an estimated 33.6 million players participated in basketball, football, baseball and hockey. Kwak has another paper pending that looks at fantasy football entry fees and payouts.

There are millions of dollars at stake, and this inflated sense of control over winning outcome is closely tied to gambling psychology, Kwak said.

“For instance, throwing a dice on your own does not necessarily change the probability, but may make you believe that you are the ‘causal agent’ for a specific result,” he said.

This connection merits a closer look, especially as these games become more available on mobile devices, thus easily accessed by college or high school-aged players who are even more susceptible to such advertising ploys.

The study, “Ad-evoked illusory judgments in fantasy sports,” appears in the Journal of Sport Management.



  1. David Talaga
    on January 16, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    It’s beyond luck. My own fantasy football team has been under-performing routinely since I made the mistake of wearing my fantasy football legends sweatshirt at Stonehenge in England. My players have failed to achieve their projected totals too often since to be attributed to just bad luck. My team has obviously been cursed by Druid spirits.

    • Vincent O’Greeny
      on January 28, 2014 at 9:45 pm

      Might be a little luck, but I have won the championship in my family league 3 of the past 5 years. Coincidence/luck….I don’t think so….maybe lowly competition is the better answer.

  2. Mike Greene
    on July 15, 2014 at 9:54 am

    Good write up but luck is only 20% or less of what it takes to big a good team GM. When a league has a good playoff setup for how the teams get into them then that too will lower the luck factor. Fantasy sports has came a long ways, but the biggest evolution I seen in 2014 is this website provides leagues with a national ranking vs other leagues across the nation and across multiple hosting sites like espn, cbs, yahoo, etc… Now leagues find out just how good their team owners are and the best part is the entire league wins prizes together!

  3. Brandon Barron
    on September 7, 2015 at 4:50 pm

    Your article, while fundamentally true, is flawed. Luck is certainly more important than skill when you look at one contest in isolation. But when you look at thousands upon thousands of contests skill will win out.

    For example, let’s say for argument purposes that one contest has luck as an 80% factor and skill as 20%. Luck will play the greater role, and any ordinary Joe can win. But over time and many contests the skillful player will win, the unskilled player will go bust, and the company creating the contests will gain much revenue.

    I have a stats based site that is still in it’s infancy. There are already many more with stats based approaches far more complex than mine. The people going by the numbers, and not by hunches, will be the eventual winners.

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