For Agency Fan, Football a Game in More Ways Than One

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MANY EXPERTS believe that significant productivity issues seethe in the seemingly harmless hobby of fantasy football, a pastime played by about 20 million Americans-mostly male-that costs employers close to $200 million a year.

Perhaps no one understands this better than Mark St. Amant, a longtime ad copywriter who in 2003 left a Connecticut agency job to write a book about his fantasy football obsession. "Committed: Confessions of a Fantasy Football Junkie," published in 2004, is a quick-reading romp throughout the hobby and his own journey through one season.

Since the spring, Mr. St. Amant is again holding down a cubicle, this time at Havas' Arnold Worldwide, Boston, so it's not so easy to get him to fess up to just how committed he has been over the past season to a game that consumed him for eight years or so. He meets the question of how many hours a day he typically spends tending his team with another question. "Do I want to admit this in a corporate environment?"

It's a relevant question, when you consider that "Committed" pretty much lays bare the secret life of most male office workers of a certain age. Though most probably haven't spent Thanksgiving weekend in the Internet- and TV-free Guajataca Forest in Puerto Rico, if they had they certainly would experience the anxiety Mr. St. Amant narrates in "Committed." "As the torrential rain beats down on our little glorified camping cabin, I'm tormented, thinking about my corps of [wide receivers] who have sucked donkey butt all year long."

Now gainfully employed, this is what he does admit: "I check on it throughout the day. I don't spend hours on end. Weekends I'm on quite a bit-a couple hours a day. ... But I get my work done."

Having escaped without giving a hard number, he does offer up a peculiar contrast to show just how in control he is. Mr. St. Amant, surprisingly, for all the hours he devotes, plays in only two leagues. On the other hand, he says, singer "Meat Loaf plays in 25 leagues and that's down from 50."

If it strikes you as curious that Mr. St. Amant would offer the habits of the singer of "Paradise by the Dashboard Light" and "Two Out of Three Ain't Bad" as a bellwether for his sanity, then you don't watch "Classic Now," a sports talk show on ESPN Classic. There Mr. St. Amant is often paired with Meat Loaf, an admitted fantasy sports addict, to discuss hot-button issues.

His next book, set to be published in fall 2006, seems sure to broaden his appeal on the sports humor TV circuit. It's based on another immersive journalist project, his experience as a kicker for a semipro football team.

"It's meant to be `Paper Lion' meets `Friday Night Lights,' a book about semipro football through the eyes of an small, inexperienced, white kicker-me," he said. "It's also a look at what football brings to the lives of people from different socioeconomic backgrounds."

Mr. St. Amant, 38, said that Arnold encourages these creative side interests, something his boss confirmed. "A more rounded person is a better creative." said Roger Baldacci, exec VP-creative director. It probably doesn't hurt that Mr. St. Amant works on Arnold's Mobile ESPN account and, though he won't talk about it, the Super Bowl spot for the brand.

It's unclear if Mr. St. Amant's wife, Celia, feels the same way as his boss, but Mr. St. Amant does offer a pretty healthy justification for the obsession-at least, when you consider the alternatives.

"I like the competitive aspect but the camaraderie is at the top of the list," he said. "There are leagues of people who only see each other once a year at the draft, and it's the one common bond that keeps them in touch."

Devoted to a worthy cause? Have a secret fishing hideaway? Ad Age is looking for Off Hours stories from marketer world execs. If you have a fascinating Off Hours activity, describe your passion in an email to Mike Ryan at [email protected]

Mark St. Amant

Arnold copywriter gets his kicks from football (at right with Meat Loaf)

More than a game:

Both the NFL and NFL Players’ Association have Web sites that cater to the fantasy fan. There are an estimated 300,000-plus sports-related Web sites. For fantasy football, power-houses include AOL Sports, CBS Sportsline, ESPN, Fox Sports, SportingNews, Sportsillustrated.cnn, USA Today and Yahoo.

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