Plenty of Silly in ‘Silly Little Game’

Being on the road for a week and a half after a film premiere doesn’t help much with providing a timely review, but the benefit of time is that we had a chance to see how others reacted to ESPN’s Silly Little Game.

By and large, the reaction seemed to be positive. Most reviewers seemed entertained by the reenactments that made up a large portion of the hourlong documentary and praised the filmmakers for spicing up a potentially boring subject. We tend to think, however, that Silly Little Game relied a bit too heavily on the silly and should have pushed itself to get a little bigger. disagrees with this heavy-handed day-after review from The Big Lead, whose writer acts offended at the blatantly whimsical sketches that accompanied the remembrances of original Rotisserie league members. The actors went obviously and purposefully over the top in sticking with the theme of silliness amid a set of games that have grown into serious business. We did find, however, that the silliness got a bit excessive at times.

At the heart of the film is the story of Daniel Okrent and his fellow roto founders. It is fun and interesting to hear their recollections of the early days of fantasy — how they got consumed the way so many of us tend to — and it’s undeniably unfortunate that they missed out on the “money train” that their league helped set into motion. Does it take a whole hour of flying graphics and Yoohoo-soaked actors to convey that, though?

“Money train” probably isn’t even a fair term, as it might imply that fantasy entrepreneurs have simply landed in a pot of gold. In reality, those who have found success in fantasy sports have done so by working long hours and often building operations from scratch at great personal financial risk. And the billions of dollars discussed in framing the industry’s impact might give some the wrong idea about its actual size beyond operators Yahoo!, ESPN and CBS Sports. It’s easy for the Rotisserie leaguers to look back and think about the money they missed out on, but would they have been willing to invest the time, work and dollars to realize that result?

The film made relatively passing mentions of the industry that has grown from fantasy’s founding, but it would have done well to switch over at some point and tell us more about how that growth took place. After all, it’s likely that most of the Silly Little Game audience came in at least passably familiar with the Rotisserie story. How many casual fantasy players who might let a baseball team go dead once they fall out of contention in August will devote an hour to a documentary about some 1980s New York magazine editors? How many devoted fantasy players did, for that matter?

The film makes a point to show us Meat Loaf (owner of 60-plus fantasy teams in multiple sports) near the end and focus on his complete indifference for fantasy’s origins.

Additionally, although the Rotisserie founders deserve plenty of credit, the film seems to focus completely on them as the gods that delivered fantasy. What about the GOPPPL, which was playing a form of fantasy football way back in 1962? Anyone that knows this industry knows that Okrent and crew did not invent fantasy sports. They gave it a nice boost, and we salute them, but a documentary like this can re-write history when it shouldn’t be re-written.

It was fun to hear the founding fantasy baseball players talk about how they had no idea what they were doing at their first draft, and even to see goofball “dramatizations” of the Rotisserie timeline. Ultimately, however, we’d sum up Silly Little Game in these three words: entertaining but disappointing.


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2 Responses to “Plenty of Silly in ‘Silly Little Game’”

  1. Fantasy Sports Business » Blog Archive » FSB Daily 6/26: FF Librarian, No Offseason, FF Help Says:

    [...] weakest of the documentaries to date in ESPN’s “30 for 30″ series. We certainly weren’t fans [...]

  2. Fantasy Sports Business » Blog Archive » ‘Silly Little Game’ Interviewed, Ignored Fantasy Forefathers Says:

    [...] film’s creators came up well short in telling the real background story on fantasy sports, as we pointed out on this site after viewing the [...]

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