3 Ways to Cash In on Fantasy Football Without a Winning Team

NFL Labor Fantasy Football
Al Behrman/APFantasy football participants at Buffalo Wild Wings.

A new NFL season is kicking off, and it's not just about rooting for your favorite team. For an estimated 41 million fantasy football players in the U.S. and Canada, the next few months will be spent trading players, drafting free agents and wondering if it will be Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte or Adrian Peterson who'll lead the league in rushing yards.

The Fantasy Sports Trade Association predicts that nearly $1.7 billion will be spent on league fees for fantasy sports this year. From office productivity slipping to the dilemma of having to root for players suiting up with your local team's archrivals when your own fantasy match is on the line, fantasy football creates some unusual experiences. Whether participants are playing for bragging rights or a cash prize, they devote a lot of time building teams of skilled position players and scoring points based on how they perform.

You can profit from fantasy football, even if you wound up drafting Josh Gordon and Wes Welker as your wide receivers. There are plenty of publicly traded companies with some serious skin in seeing this national obsession continue to expand. Let's check them out.

1. Go for the Dot-Com Score

The three largest fantasy football websites are all publicly traded. Yahoo (YHOO), CBS' (CBS) CBSSports.com and Disney's (DIS) ESPN.com combine to attract 38 percent of this year's participants, according to industry watcher IBIS World.

All three sites offer both free and premium leagues, but the fun doesn't end there. Many players also seek out fantasy football news across third-party sites, hoping to gain an edge on sleeper picks and waiver-wire ideas that their more passive competitors aren't checking out. The result is the average player spending 8.7 hours a week consuming news, adjusting rosters and fielding trade requests. The entire Internet wins because that's a lot of online advertising being consumed as 41 million players surf for morsels of gridiron information.

2. TV for the TD

Fantasy football would be nothing without real football, and that's where broadcasters come in. We've already covered CBS and ESPN parent Disney. However, the real TV star for fantasy football buffs is DirecTV (DTV). It's the only satellite or cable television provider offering access to every NFL regular-season game in its entirety. DirecTV's NFL Sunday Ticket has been a real difference maker for the satellite television leader, likely explaining why it hasn't suffered the same kind of "cord cutter" defections that traditional cable providers have experienced in recent years.

Other premium providers are offering access to the NFL's RedZone Network, which is a single channel that covers scoring opportunities during the day, but DIirecTV is the platform of choice for channel-surfing fantasy football buffs.

3. The Crowd Goes Wild

We can't say that fantasy football players put their lives on hold during fantasy football season, though wives -- 80 percent of players are male -- and co-workers may see it that way. They still go out and have fun. However, Sunday outings are often limited to sports bars. Buffalo Wild Wings (BWLD) operates the country's largest chain of family-friendly sports bars, with more than 1,030 locations across the country. Most of the year it's best known for its wide variety of signature chicken wings, but during the NFL season, it's a place where folks can watch several games at the same time across the various mounted screens.

Buffalo Wild Wings knows that fantasy football is a big draw, and last month it offered to host draft parties for leagues of eight or more players, complete with complimentary draft boards, stickers and coupons for future visits. On Tuesday it unveiled GameBreak, a multiplatform gaming experience whereby customers can play fantasy-style games for weekly prizes.

Tough luck on drafting Gonzalez or getting stuck with Matt Schaub as your starting quarterback. Your fantasy football season may be all but over, but you can still make it back on top by investing in the companies cashing in on the booming trend.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney, and he's the defending champion of one of his two fantasy football leagues. He's also a Miami Dolphins fan, so he needs all the fantasy he can get. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Buffalo Wild Wings, Walt Disney and Yahoo. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.