There was no better bet than Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson in the 2017 fantasy football draft. The first-team All-Pro had finished the previous season with 20 touchdowns, more than 1,200 rushing yards and 80 receptions for an additional 879 yards — the most among running backs — totaling more than 400 fantasy points.
And so, not surprisingly, he sat atop most of this year’s fantasy draft boards, like this one from ESPN:
In the third quarter of the first game of the season against the Detroit Lions, however, Johnson dislocated his wrist, ending his season.
For most fantasy owners who’d invested in the Cardinals superstar, it was a devastating — and costly (league dues can exceed $1,000) — turn of events. Losing your best player with 12 weeks left in the season makes it very difficult to recoup your cash, let alone win the league. Consequently, many David Johnson owners were already looking ahead to the fantasy baseball season.
But not Dale Demott, co-host of Eat.Sleep.Fantasy, the top-ranked fantasy football podcast on iTunes. “I hate to say I got lucky given someone got injured,” Demott tells me, “but my first reaction was relief.”
That’s because he’d taken out a policy on Johnson through Rotosurance, the first-of-its-kind fantasy insurance broker that covers what they deem to be the 100 best players in the NFL and compensates you financially if any of them miss significant time due to injury. (They also sell policies for fantasy baseball, basketball and hockey.) In short: If Rotosurance can’t make David Johnson’s wrist heal faster, it will at least protect your investment.
Demott had met Ryan Flaherty, the 24-year-old founder of Rotosurance, a month earlier at the 2017 National Fantasy Football Convention in Dallas and was immediately intrigued. “There was nothing else like it out there,” he says. Flaherty, a Lone Star state native who graduated with a business degree from Texas State University in 2016, was looking to branch out from digital marketing, his chosen career path. It was good money, he says, but he was looking for something more closely aligned to his foremost passion: Fantasy sports.
“I was out on the boat drinking with some buddies and floating some tubes,” he remembers. “I said, ‘Last year, I got totally screwed when Gronk went out. Why isn’t there insurance for your fantasy sports players?’ My buddy was like, ‘That’s a genius idea!’”
There are 59.3 million people playing fantasy sports in the U.S. and Canada who spend, on average, $556 on league-related costs over a 12-month period. “You can buy a $600 phone and get insurance on it,” Flaherty says. “You should also be able to protect your fantasy investments.” Per Flaherty, Rotosurance works like so: Let’s say you and your coworkers are in a fantasy football league with a $100 entry fee. When the draft is complete, you’d go to Rotosurance’s website and buy a one-time premium on Johnson and/or other marquee players. Premiums range from 7 to 15 percent of your league’s entry fee and are determined by a proprietary, patent-pending “injury-risk” algorithm that determines the likelihood of a player getting injured based on a range of factors — things like surgical history, age, team, position, usage rate, climate of home stadium, etc.
Johnson hadn’t missed a game in his previous two NFL seasons, so his policy came in at a bargain price of 8 percent. Or in actual terms, in your $100 office league, you’d have paid $8 to cover him for the season. (A $200 league would be $16; $300 league would be $24; and so on.) If a covered player gets injured for the minimum amount of time (i.e., nine or more games), Rotosurance reimburses your entry fee and any miscellaneous research investments such as study guides and draft preparation kits (no receipts required).
Like the sleeper tight end you draft in the seventh round, though, Rotosurance is still fairly unknown. “Really?!” exclaims Jack Paskell, my former landlord who has a near-pathological obsession with fantasy football, when I tell him about it. “I’ve never even heard of something like that,” he adds, dumbfounded by the notion of being able to hedge his fantasy bets.
“Gotta say, it’s not something I’ve ever considered,” says Andy Behrens, a veteran fantasy pro with Yahoo! Sports. “I recommend people not take on entry fees they can’t afford to lose. Also, I’m not sure how the pricing would work across high-stakes leagues.”
“I can’t imagine ever being so serious about fantasy to take out insurance,” adds David Aisner, the commissioner of the fantasy baseball league I’ve been apart of for the last 20 years. “This feels like it’s targeting a tier of fantasy dork that somehow exceeds my own.”
I drop by the forums at The Huddle, an online destination for fantasy football fanatics, to see if they’d consider underwriting their fictional football stars. Reactions varied:
Chief Dick: Kiss my Grits with this nonsense.
LordOpie: MEL Magazine sounds like something for the alternative sector… nttawwt
Stevegrab: Fantasy sports insurance, nope not worth it. Maybe for the Muto’s of the world.
Stevegrab is referring to Henry Muto, the two-time national high-stakes fantasy football champion with winnings in the six-figures. Entrance fees to high-stakes fantasy football leagues — the biggest being the Fantasy Football Players Championship, the Fantasy Football World Championship and the National Fantasy Football Championship — are around $1,600 to $2,000 per team.
Presumably, it’s these hungry sharks who would be most interested in protecting their pseudo squads. Flaherty, of course, welcomes them. “Users can request any amount,” he explains. “A $10,000 entry fee will be covered the same as any of our other policies.” Flaherty, however, has his eye on a different prize: He wants to pursue partnerships with daily fantasy leagues like DraftKings and FanDuel and hopes to integrate insurance options on their site. So instead of having to come to Rotosurance, you could check a box at the bottom of your DraftKings lineup opting in to insure your players.
For a final bit of wisdom, I turn to a real pro — Arnie Wexler, a certified compulsive gambling counselor and author of All Bets Are Off: Losers, Liars and Recovering from Gambling Addiction. “I know people who buy insurance on their life,” he tells me, “and I know people who would never do it because they think they are pissing away money betting on themselves to die. That’s the mind of an addicted gambler versus a normal person. It sounds silly to me that an addicted gambler — with the giant ego that we all have — would want to piss away money on insurance.”
“That said,” he continues, “I do think it would make sense for a normal person who wanted to protect themselves from losing a lot of money.”