There are plenty of data points that show daily fantasy is taking over: billion-dollar valuations, hundreds of millions in new investments (including buy-in from the major sports leagues themselves), in-stadium daily fantasy "lounges," rapid growth in participation (expected to skyrocket this NFL season), and -- of course -- the can't-miss-'em ads on TV. And then there is the most powerful data point I have seen yet:
Gabe became a die-hard NFL fan four years ago. He is obsessed with RedZone (for the channel's night-ending "Touchdown Montage"; as a 6-year-old, he invented the delightful malaprop "Touchdown Massage"). Last year, he enthusiastically helped me draft and co-manage my traditional, season-long fantasy football teams.
But when he got his first taste of daily fantasy sports this spring during the NBA playoffs, he was hooked -- and now he can't wait for the NFL season to start. Daily fantasy completely leapfrogged my kid's interest in managing a traditional fantasy football team, and it is not hard to understand why:
It takes him 10 minutes to set a team, and he sees the results the next day (or, in the case of the NFL, just a few days later). Simplicity, low commitment and instant gratification are three of the core value propositions of daily fantasy, and it is so easy to grasp how even a child intuitively finds the appeal.
Well, that and the money.
I'll admit: The thing that skeeved me out about playing daily fantasy with my kid was the same thing that skeeved me out about letting him fill out an NCAA hoops bracket or try traditional fantasy football or even download an iPhone game with paid add-ons. What if I am planting the seed for a future gambling problem as an adult?
When we won $1.80 on a $1 entry "50/50" group (in which the top half of all participants win), I saw his eyes light up.
I think the keys are moderation and communication: Start with the obvious logistical step that we play with my oversight through my account. I can monitor everything and we do it together.
Next: low stakes and low payouts. We don't risk more than a buck or two a week. And we specifically play low-variance "50/50" categories that don't even double your money. The chance to become a millionaire is just not what it is about for us.
Finally, we have awesome conversations:
• The merits of process-over-outcome thinking. ("How are you thinking about making your picks?")
• How to think through budgetary trade-offs. ("What does spending 15 percent of your budget on Aaron Rodgers mean for your running backs?")
• Honest talk about gambling itself. ("This is real money. There are real consequences to spending -- or losing -- it. And you shouldn't confuse this as a way of earning money.") Frankly, I'm more comfortable introducing my kids to the concept of betting on sports with me than I am shielding them from it (and then wondering what happened to their rent money on their first post-college trip to Las Vegas).
• And, mostly, the enjoyable process of simply playing together. We're sitting closely together on the couch, sharing a look at the phone screen. He is holding the phone ("Dad, I'm driving"), sometimes asking questions, sometimes making jokes, sometimes trash-talking my suggestions. I even got him to (fleetingly) open up about his day at school, totally unrelated to the game.
I appreciate the allure of "the big check" we keep seeing on TV, but it feels distant and inaccessible. For me, the daily fantasy payout is that physical, conversational and emotional proximity to my kid -- the brief, sincere accessibility we get to each other.
In that way, it is just like having a catch outside.
No, I'm not suggesting that playing daily fantasy sports with your kid replaces other activities, such as reading together, watching a game or, yes, actually having that catch. We still spend a ton of time doing all those things.
But as a 15-minute, weekly ritual in the fall, playing daily fantasy together feels like a fun, personal, quick-hit tradition we are going to enjoy together -- sitting side by side and debating the value of each choice, then keeping track on Sunday to see how we are doing.
"Having a catch" was never about the catch -- it is about what child psychologists call "special time," in which your kid directs a brief but focused stretch of playtime with you, based on what he or she wants to do with you. Daily fantasy has quickly entered that rotation.
Ever played daily fantasy (or traditional fantasy) with your kid? Thinking about it? Just think that I'm a morally bankrupt dad and want to tell me so? Join the discussion on Facebook with me (facebook.com/danshanoff) or espnW (facebook.com/espnw), on Twitter (@danshanoff) or on Instagram (@danshanoff).