The eyes of the football world were on Canton, Ohio last week for the Pro Football Hall of Fame 2023 induction ceremony and the NFL pre-season kickoff Hall of Fame game featuring the Cleveland Browns and New York Jets.
This weekend, the football focus returns to Canton, but this time it’s for the growing legion of fans of fantasy football, as well as the thriving industry surrounding it.
The 2023 Fantasy Football Expo will bring together top fantasy football experts, writers, professionals, players and fans on Sunday, Aug. 13, preceded by two days of parties and other events (including live draft events like the King’s Classic Draft), all taking place at the Hall of Fame Village and other nearby Canton locations.
Legal fantasy sports preceded the Ohio sports betting industry by more than three years, but both industries are poised to continue growing quickly in the coming years.
Expos founded by Canton native and fantasy expert
The Fantasy Football Expo was founded in 2019 by Canton native Bob Lung, who has been playing fantasy sports since the mid-’80s and writing about fantasy football since 2002.
Lung, 60, created his own fantasy football consistency model, tracking players’ fantasy performance, which he publishes in his acclaimed annual Fantasy Football Consistency Guide. Lung also founded bigguyfantasysports.com, which features a network of blogs and podcasts for fantasy baseball and football players.
For more than 30 years, Lung has worked as a volunteer driver for the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s annual induction events, an experience that helped spark his idea for a large-scale fantasy football event for both the fantasy industry and dedicated players.
“As I watched the Hall of Fame kind of grow their weekend from a small two-day event into a big weekend,” Lung tells PlayOhio, “I always thought, man, why can’t we do this for the fantasy football community?”
The Fantasy Football Expo combined Lung’s love for his hometown and his passion for all things fantasy football. He describes Canton as the perfect place for the expo, because it’s inexpensive and easily accessible to people in the Midwest and on East Coast.
“People love it,” Lung says of the response to the expo from the fantasy football world. “They love the small-town atmosphere — everything is 10 minutes away, so it doesn’t matter what hotel you stay at. We don’t have to worry about being in a Cleveland or Vegas, some big town that would be horribly expensive (and) difficult to get to.”
Expo attendance grew 1,000% in first three years
The timing of the annual event has also worked out well, falling just after the Hall of Fame weekend (which Lung says is an especially slow week in Canton) and just a few weeks ahead of the start of the NFL season, when fantasy football players are gearing up for their league drafts.
Lung estimates that 80% of those who come to the Fantasy Football Expo are from outside of Ohio. Last year even drew a couple of attendees from the U.K.
The success of the expo in just its first few years is emblematic of the massive increase in interest in fantasy sports over the past couple of decades, with the more recent rise of DFS options attracting even more attention alongside the continually thriving season-long contests. Some recent estimates suggest over 60 million people in North America engage in some sort of fantasy contest. Lung thinks that estimate is low.
“My thought is probably 70 million people now play in just the United States,” Lung says.
Lung says in the Fantasy Football Expo’s first year, 75 people attended.
Last year, that number grew to 750 and he’s expecting even more attendees this year.
Expo to feature sports betting panels this year
This will be the first time the Fantasy Football Expo will be held since Ohio launched legalized sports betting statewide at the start of 2023. The expo’s Sunday panel lineup this year even includes a session on sports betting presented by the Sports Gambling Podcast Network, where experts will provide tips for sports gamblers.
Lung sees the rise of sports betting as a great way to enhance the fantasy football experience.
“With prop bets and gambling, that stuff just compliments and adds to that new experience of when you’re watching a fantasy game, you can work for your fantasy teams,” he says. “You can root for (Cleveland Browns running back) Nick Chubb to go over 85 yards rushing. There’s things that you can be more engaged and more involved with. And I think the more you have that stuff, the more fun watching a football game is — more than just, ‘Is my, is my favorite team gonna win or lose?’ ”
The expo will also feature a panel discussing strategies for player prop bets, something that has been controversial in Ohio in relation to fantasy sports. DFS operators with prop bets like PrizePicks have been unable to get licensing in Ohio because regulators in the state see individual player prop bets as a form of sports betting, to be made available only through authorized sportsbooks.
Lung says he has friends who have developed fantasy apps and games and he’s marveled at all of the regulatory hoops they have to jump through, with different rules to follow in each state. Lung says he feels like prop bets are no different from fantasy contests, drawing from the same knowledge base.
“You’re using knowledge about a player or the system to make a decision on what that person’s going to do from a performance standpoint,” Lung says. “And that’s really what fantasy football is.
“I struggle with why (some regulators) think some of this is fine and some of it’s not. There’s not a lot of consistency yet in my mind on how this world regulates that. I’ve seen games that I could’ve played in Ohio last year that involved props, but other games that I couldn’t and I didn’t understand why.”
Weekend events include King’s Classic League fantasy drafts
When asked about what he’s most excited about this year, Lung mentions Dez Bryant, the former star NFL wide receiver who will be on hand Sunday to introduce his new fantasy product called High Point. Bryant seems similarly excited to attend the Fantasy Football Expo, posting about it several times on his personal Twitter/X account.
Lung says Bryant will also be participating in Saturday’s Flag Football Tournament, one of many events leading up to Sunday’s expo and panel discussions.
The fun begins Friday, Aug. 11 with an opening night party at Centennial Plaza in downtown Canton.
Saturday, Aug. 12 is all about fantasy football drafts. Teams of fantasy football experts will participate in several different live drafts throughout the day, including two new leagues — an IDP – King’s Classic League and a Queen’s Classic league for women players.
The main event is the annual King’s Classic Draft, featuring top players competing for a literal wrestling-style championship belt. Three divisions will be competing in the invite-only tournament at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with the action being covered on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio throughout the day.
Fantasy Football Expo tickets, panels and more
Online ticket sales for the Fantasy Football Expo have stopped, but tickets can be purchased in person at the nearby Doubletree hotel where many of the attendees are staying.
A ticket to attend all three days’ worth of events — from the opening party to the expo itself — is $95. It’s $75 to attend Saturday’s draft events, the flag football games and an evening party at the Hall of Fame Village, as well as all of Sunday’s events. Both tiers of “VIP” tickets include free admission to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Admission for just Sunday’s expo, held in the Hall of Fame Village in “The Dome” performance center, is only $20. Sunday’s expo events run from 10 a.m.-4 pm.
Sunday’s expo will feature several product demos, with industry representatives showing off their latest wares. Besides Bryant’s new project, there will be product demos for the Fantasy Football Advice Forum, Game Blazers, Bettor Vision, Bettle and more.
Featuring an array of experts from across the industry, panel discussions that are scheduled for the 2023 Fantasy Football Expo include Auction Draft Strategies, Redraft Strategies, a Medical Panel (with the latest on player injuries), Women in Fantasy Football, an Expert Mock Draft and a panel called Getting Started as a Content Creator, for those looking to get into fantasy football content.
Find the full schedule of events and more info at thefantasyfootballexpo.com.