ESPN is upping the ante on fantasy sports — which has been a massive traffic driver online — with a new half-hour fantasy football show hosted by Matthew Berry, set to launch on TV and online ahead of the next NFL season.
“The Fantasy Show,” to run Monday through Friday, will feature Berry, a noted fantasy-sports expert who’s worked at ESPN for more than 10 years, analyzing the day’s news and developments. That will launch Aug. 1 initially on the ESPN App and WatchESPN digital video platforms, leading up to a reprise of the 28-hour “ESPN Fantasy Football Marathon” Aug. 14-15 across multiple programs on ESPN networks. Following the marathon programming block, “The Fantasy Show” will make its TV premiere on ESPN2 and will run through the rest of the NFL’s 2017-18 season.
That’s in addition to the flood of fantasy football content that Berry and the rest of ESPN’s crew will continue to pump out, including articles and columns, a daily hourlong podcast, and a Sunday morning show during NFL season on ESPN2.
“For so long, fantasy sports has been a great digital property for us,” said Norby Williamson, ESPN’s exec VP of production. “For the first time, we’re taking a franchise and really, truly making it integrated across platforms, clearly with the focus on the marathon.”
ESPN doesn’t disclose specifically how many fantasy sports players use its services. But according to Williamson, last year’s inaugural “Fantasy Football Marathon” drove the two biggest days of signups ever for ESPN Fantasy Football, resulting in 1.75 million teams drafted. (ESPN had been shooting for 1 million.) In November 2016, the ESPN Fantasy App was No. 1 in total minutes in the sports category with 2.4 billion for the month and was No. 2 for monthly unique users with 12.2 million (after the ESPN App with 15.5 million), according to comScore.
“With all this activity, we wanted to establish a consistent fantasy show — Monday through Friday — that’s available on every screen our fans have access to,” said Williamson.
Berry acknowledged that he’ll have his hands full with the new show on top of the rest of his workload. But he’s not concerned about having enough material to fill a TV show every day. “If there’s news in the NFL, it affects fantasy football, and there’s always news in the NFL,” he said, adding that the topics in his daily podcast will be different from what’s on “The Fantasy Show.”
“I’ve been playing fantasy sports for over 30 years, and I have yet to run out of stuff to talk about,” he said. “There’s a regular cadence to the season.”
By launching “The Fantasy Show” first on the internet, producers will be able to experiment with the elements of the show, Williamson said. Online, “it doesn’t have to be 30 minutes… It can be 18 minutes or 45 minutes,” he said. “We’re trying to step into this smartly.” Williamson said “The Fantasy Show” will run through the NFL playoffs and then “we’ll see where it goes.” ESPN could adapt the format for the NBA and/or Major League Baseball, he added.
“The Fantasy Show” will shoot in Studio B at ESPN’s Bristol, Conn., headquarters. Williamson said his goal for the show is to be unpredictable: “We want to create something very visually different, with a frenetic pace and passion.”
Following the marathon, “The Fantasy Show” will debut on Wednesday, Aug. 16, at 5 p.m. ET on ESPN2. It will then air at 5 p.m. ET every weekday through the NFL season, and full episodes will be available on WatchESPN and the ESPN App.
“The reason fantasy football is so popular is very simple: It’s insanely fun,” said Berry, who joined ESPN in February 2007 when the company acquired his web site, TalentedMr.Roto.com. “Of course, probably the most fun part of fantasy is winning, so we’ll focus on that – trying to be informative, entertaining and not completely embarrassing.”
Here’s a rundown of the rest of ESPN’s fantasy football content lineup:
- “ESPN Fantasy Football Marathon”: Starting Monday, Aug. 14 at 7 p.m. ET through Tuesday, Aug. 15 at 11 p.m. ET, the marathon will include fantasy football specials in primetime, segments on multiple editions of “SportsCenter,” and fantasy football-themed editions of popular ESPN shows, including “First Take,” “Mike & Mike,” “OTL,” “SportsNation” and “NFL Live.” All programs during the marathon will be streamed live on the ESPN App, ESPN Fantasy App and WatchESPN across mobile and over-the-top devices. Berry and NFL insider Adam Schefter will again appear on air during the entire 28-hour marathon, and Trey Wingo will return to host primetime shows on both nights.
- “Fantasy Football Now”: Live Sunday morning program will again include Berry, Tim Hasselbeck, Field Yates and Stephania Bell, as they prepare fans for the day’s fantasy action. The show will debut on opening night, Thursday, Sept. 7, with a 30-minute show at 7:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2, and will continue every Sunday throughout the season; sponsored by Papa John’s.
- “Fantasy Focus” Football Podcast: Returns to its daily schedule Monday, July 31. Hosted by Berry and Yates, along with Bell, the podcast will continue to provide player previews, game overviews and strategies, as well as featured guests and interviews.
- “Fantasy Focus” on ESPN Radio: Featuring ESPN fantasy analyst Eric Karabell with regular weekly guests like former NFL player Tom Waddle and Bell. In addition, throughout the season, ESPN Radio will have fantasy football segments in programs like the daily “Mike & Mike” (simulcast on ESPN2) as well as ESPN Radio’s weekend shows including “Fantasy Focus,” “Weekend Observations with Stu & Spain” and “Operation Football.”
- News and analysis on ESPN.com and ESPN Apps: Once again be headlined by Berry, who will write his signature “Love/Hate” column for an 11th season. In addition, Bell, Matt Bowen, Mike Clay, Tristan H. Cockcroft, KC Joyner and Yates will return this season as contributors. The core fantasy content on the ESPN Fantasy App and ESPN.com will include weekly rankings for both PPR (points-per-reception) and non-PPR formats, projections for standard and custom scoring; weekly columns from ESPN fantasy contributors; tools and content for ESPN Insiders; and contributions from ESPN’s “NFL Nation” reporters.