The NFL's Fantasy Score

Tonight (Sept. 10) marks the kickoff of the 2009 National Football League season as the defending world champion Pittsburgh Steelers face their AFC rivals the Tennessee Titans.

For Steelers and Titans fans as well as overall die-hard football fans, the game is the only thing happening in their lives from 8:30 p.m. to about midnight.

But the game is also significant for fantasy football competitors like me who may have Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger or Titans running back Chris Johnson on their revered fantasy teams.

And there are a lot of us playing fantasy football: The Los Angeles Times recently reported that an estimated 30 million people are involved in NFL fantasy leagues and that the average player spends an average of $154 per season per person just for online football reports.

ESPN Tuesday reported that participation in its ESPN Fantasy Football leagues is at an all-time high (although it would not reveal specific figures), with the network posting a 20% increase in Fantasy Football participation in each of the past five years.

The continued growth of Fantasy Football should bode well for NFL game ratings on ESPN, NFL Network, NBC, CBS and Fox as fantasy players tune in to see how well their fantasy players perform. It should also boost the value of DirecTV and the NFL Network’s RedZone channel, which highlights scoring plays from all of the league’s Sunday afternoon games. Currently only Dish Network, Comcast and Verizon are offering the stand-alone channel (DirecTV also offers the channel as part of its NFL Sunday Ticket package) but the league is aggressively pitching the rest of the cable industry.

In the meantime for most fantasy players, tonight game can’t come soon enough.