ATLANTIC CITY - Talk of point-per-reception leagues, sleepers and the ever-present debate on whether to take a quarterback or running back in the first round filled the Atlantic City Convention Center on Saturday.
The center hosted the first Fantasy Football Fest. The event continues at 10:15 a.m. today.
Fans, most of whom wore football jerseys, wondered through exhibits and got advice from experts. For a fee that ranged anywhere from $25 to $300, fans could get autographs from current and former NFL players. LeSean McCoy and Michael Vick of Philadelphia Eagles were scheduled to sign autographs late Saturday afternoon. Former New York Giants star Lawrence Taylor signed Saturday afternoon.
About 32 million people in the United States and Canada participate in fantasy sports, according to a 2011 study by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
This is fantasy football's busiest time of the year. The NFL season begins Sept. 5 when the Giants host the Dallas Cowboys. Most fantasy leagues will hold their drafts in the next two weeks. At drafts, fans select their own teams from among NFL players. The teams then compete against each other during the season with players earning points for their fantasy teams based on their actual performances in games. For example, receivers would get a point for each reception they make - hence point-per-reception leagues.
"It (fantasy football) makes every play of every game interesting," said Stu Maloff, who came from Boca Raton, Fla., for the event.
The festival is run by ReedPOP, the same company that produces the Comic Con events.
Many fans at Saturday's event sought an edge to make their fantasy teams successful this season.
Looking for sleepers (underrated players who might have a big year this season) at running back? Head over to the running back panel discussion, which featured former NFL players Michael Haddix of the Philadelphia Eagles and Bill Taylor of the New York Giants and fantasy expert Dave Richard.
They touted Ryan Williams of the Arizona Cardinals and Evan Royster of the Washington Redskins.
"I've enjoyed all the panels," said Jim Forster, 56, of Mays Landing. "Next week is our draft. You get all this advice and it helps you out."
John Altera, 32, drove nearly three hours from Woodridge, Bergen County, and asked the experts from SiriusXM radio whether he should take running back Darren McFadden of the Oakland Raiders, wide receiver Calvin Johnson of the Detroit Lions or a quarterback with the sixth pick in the first round of his draft.
The answer? McFadden.
"He's the upside play," Altera said.
Other fans participated in drafts for leagues they would follow the rest of the season. Some held drafts just for fun.
"It's always good to practice drafting, " said Cory Brin of Dallas, Pa.
Brin, 27, said he's involved in 10 leagues - give or take.
"You just have to focus on whatever league you're working on at the time," he said.
Most of the exhibits were for fantasy football websites that offered leagues and advice. One of the best exhibits featured trophies for the winners of fantasy leagues. One trophy depicted a man sitting in a recliner with a beer in one hand and a television remote control in the other.
The event also gave fans a chance to make their football fantasies a reality. There was an interactive area where fans could catch passes, test their throwing arms and even kick field goals and extra points through actual NFL goal posts.
Gaetano Fattorusso, 18, of Howell, Monmouth County, took full advantage of one of the interactive areas. The self-described huge Eagles fan sprinted out for a pass and made a diving catch onto a mat.
"Vick should give me a call," Fattorusso said with a smile.
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