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Fantasy Football Diary: Returning to the Expo Bubble

As written about in my first diary series article, last year’s Fantasy Football Expo in Canton, Ohio, was a treasured event of new experiences and new friendships. When I received the notification from the Expo’s Twitter account in February that tickets went on sale, I immediately purchased mine. Supposedly, I bought the very first ticket. What can I say? I go after what I want when I want it.

In the months leading up to the trip, excitement and apprehension built. I worried if the second year would measure up to the epic experience I had last year. Like last year, I scheduled my trip from Thursday to Monday, despite the actual events not starting until Friday evening. I arrived at the Doubletree Hotel in Canton on Thursday afternoon, along with fellow Minnesotan Scott Fish. He and I were on the same flight from MSP, and we shared a ride with George Reed and Jason from the CLE airport.

I connected with Gemma Martinez at the Doubletree bar that afternoon. She and I first met last year at the Draft Night Out event. I met her husband, Mauricio Guiterrez, for the first time this year on that Thursday afternoon. I also connected again with JJ Wenner. He was the one who was instrumental in making me feel welcomed at last year’s Expo. The four of us, along with George, Jason, Britt Flinn, Kevin Tompkins, Jim Coventry, Brian Drake, Jameson Hutchison, and Drew Davenport, all went to a place called Mulligans for the evening meal. Even though I just met some of them, the camaraderie shared made me feel right at home.

All of us at Mulligans. From left to right: Jason, Drew Davenport, Jim Coventry, Jameson Hutchinson, Brian Drake, Mauricio Gutierrez, Gemma Martinez, me, Kevin Tompkins, Britt Flinn, JJ Wenner, and George Reed.

Back at the Doubletree hotel bar, the fun continued with these friends along with others. As I was socializing, a man came up to me, extended his hand, and asked, “Are you Rachel?” He introduced himself as Pat Fitzmaurice and said he wanted to meet me. He referenced my first diary article and said that he loved it. That moment was incredible, and I was awestruck as I know full well who Pat is and what he contributes to the fantasy football industry.

Me with Pat Fitzmaurice of FantasyPros and BettingPros.

Friday morning, I went to breakfast at Samantha’s with JJ, Jameson, Scott, Ryan McDowell, and Jody Smith. Samantha’s is a quaint local diner with the most delicious breakfast entrees. After breakfast, I met up with Gemma to check out the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Afterward, we went to M Bar to watch the poker tournament that was going on. This was the 2nd annual tournament put on by Footballguys and hosted by Drew Davenport.

As we entered, I recognized the CEO of Footballguys himself, Joe Bryant! I introduced myself, but it was evident he already knew who I was from our Twitter interactions. He offered a warm smile as I shook his hand. At that moment, it felt like I was at a family reunion, and I had excitedly run into a cousin I hadn’t seen in a while. He was so incredibly nice and down-to-earth.

Me with Footballguys CEO Joe Bryant.

At the tournament, I also finally met Renee from Freak NFL! She and I connected on Twitter recently. Gemma, Renee, and I went back to the Doubletree to rest before the Friday night party.

The Friday night party was held at Centennial Park, which is within walking distance from the Doubletree. During the party, there was a corn hole tournament, food and drinks to purchase, and plenty of opportunities to mingle with others. I participated in corn hole, knowing full well I was not good at it. I was paired with another Minnesotan, Ben Ditlevson. We did not advance, but I couldn’t have asked for a better partner!

That evening I was able to reconnect with my friends I met last year — Ariel, Hoov, Linda, Kacey, and Vig, along with so many others! Seeing them again, it was like no time had passed. It was refreshing to catch up on life things and to also talk about our mutual love of fantasy football! When Kacey and I tweeted at each other earlier in the summer, she referred to the Expo as “Summer Camp.” I just love that analogy.

Later in the night, there was another significant moment of someone coming up to me and saying, “Hi, Rachel.” This time, it came from the inimitable Marcas Grant. I was shocked! Of course, I’ve tweeted at him before, and I’m also in a Fantasy Cares Eliminator league with him, but never imagined he would know who I am! He also was extremely kind and genuine.

This is what I learned from being in the Expo bubble last year and returning this year — everyone is so NICE. This is a world where everyone is accepted for who they are, no matter their gender, background, or their knowledge level of fantasy football! As long as you are there for a good time, YOU belong.

Me with Marcas Grant, NFL Media personality and contributor with Matthew Berry’s Fantasy Life.

Saturday was a day full of drafts. I went to observe the inaugural Queen’s Classic that morning, which had 14 of the top female analysts in the industry: Lisa Ann, Julia Papworth, Linda, Gemma, Faith Enes, Kelly Singh, Kendall Valenzuela, Sam Holt, Madi Kroll, Britt, Lauren Carpenter, Bonnie, Kacey, and Jen Polvogt. I am inspired by every single one of these women and all that they are accomplishing in the industry. Thank you for paving the way and helping me to know there is a seat at the table in this space for me!

In the afternoon, I participated in Draft Night Out, which was sponsored by In-Between Media this year. I was excited to be at the same draft table as Renee and also my friend Justin Chase! It was thrilling to participate in another live draft and experience the fun and adrenaline that comes with that! It was not cool, however, that JC kept sniping the players I wanted! But that’s the game of fantasy. You pivot and adjust and let the board come to you!

That evening, Gemma, Mauricio, and I went to the dome to see the end of the flag football tournament. Gemma and I were able to meet former NFL player Dez Bryant. Uh. That was indescribable! He was appearing at the Expo to present a new product from his Personal Corner brand.

Me with former Dallas Cowboys WR Dez Bryant at the Flag Football tournament.

The Saturday night party followed thereafter at the Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium. This included more drinking and mingling. I saw more of my friends from last year and friends from Twitter. It’s always a joy to run into Joey Wright and Akash. I also appreciated the time spent with Madi and getting to know her more. Another highlight was catching up with Kelly that evening. I just love being around her energy. I find her to be thoughtful, poised, and always radiating positivity.

Me with Kelly Singh, the Vice President of Marketing at TrophySmack and fellow contributor with Women of Fantasy Football.

After the party, Gemma, Renee, and I went to George’s Bar, which was packed with a lot of Expo attendees. As you probably can tell, I spent a lot of time with Gemma over the weekend. She is a fantasy analyst from Mexico who is crushing it with her content. We shared in-depth conversations about fantasy football, content creation, and about life. She and I dubbed ourselves besties and continue to keep in touch.

Me with Gemma Martinez, fantasy football content creator for Football Girls MX, and my new bestie.

Sunday was the last day of the Expo. This included various brand booths and panels. This year, it was held at the dome in the Hall of Fame village. I didn’t want to miss too much of the action, so I set out as soon as I could from the hotel. I caught some of the first panel, “Pre-Game,” that included some of the biggest names in the industry, including Bob Harris, Scott Engel, Howard Bender, and more. The other panels I attended during the day included Personal Corner with Dez Bryant’s presentation of High Point and also the Women of Fantasy Football.

Before the #WOFF panel started, I saw a little girl around 6 or 7 years old walking towards the panel with her parents. For some reason, I felt compelled to go over to her. I thanked her for coming to the panel and told her that all the female analysts on the stage were fantastic and how excited I was to see them. Then, I asked her if she liked fantasy football, and her dad relayed that she sometimes helps with his teams. He said she’s better at picking players than he is.  It warmed my heart to see her there. I hope she knows that if she has an interest in playing or being involved with fantasy football, there is a place for her. She belongs.

The #WOFF panel included Stacy Perez, Gemma, Lauren, Britt, Kacey, and Kelly and was hosted by Faith. Faith posed questions like how each of the panelists got involved in the industry, if there was ever a moment they wanted to quit, and how can we support women in fantasy football.

One of Kelly’s answers really stood out to me. She said that people can advocate for women in fantasy by “consuming the content and telling your friends how much you love it.” Simple and actionable.

The Women of Fantasy Football panel at the Fantasy Football Expo. From left to right: Faith Enes, Stacy Perez, Gemma Martinez, Lauren Carpenter, Britt Flinn, Kacey Kasem, and Kelly Singh.

Author’s Note: Recordings of all the panels from the day are on The Fantasy Football Expo YouTube channel. One of my favorite panels that I caught via the recording was “Getting Started in Fantasy Football.” I found it intriguing, no matter where you’re at on your fantasy football journey. Some of the messaging is even transferable to other industries as well. 

In between these panels, I meandered the various booths and also connected with more friends. I was able to meet Bill in person. He is another fantasy football content consumer I connected with on Twitter. Bill is an absolute gem in the community and always brings the good vibes. He also referenced my first diary article and encouraged me to keep writing. This meant a lot, knowing he has experience as a writer himself.

When I stopped at the Footballguys booth, I got to visit with Joe Bryant again. He shared insights about the fantasy football industry and the importance of character, which was highly enlightening to me as someone who is currently straddling the line between content consumer and content creator.

There is a tradition on the Sunday evening of Expo weekend: karaoke. This year, Bob Lung, the man behind the Expo, organized karaoke to be at the Doubletree Bar. This was so much fun just hanging out with other attendees. Many of them also went to Jose’s Landing after karaoke concluded at the Doubletree. I have not been to Jose’s myself, but it is a goal for 2024, and will plan my Monday return flight accordingly!

In summation, the Expo bubble (or Summer Camp) is an experience unlike any other. I recommend anyone who likes fantasy football to attend. I mentioned seeing the little girl at the WOFF panel. Spouses and families are welcome to share in the Expo experience. I had just as many meaningful conversations that weekend with people who were accompanying their spouses.

As a content consumer attending the Expo, you can meet all the creators that you follow and listen to. If you are attending as a content creator or as an aspiring creator, this is the premier event for networking with all the different brands in the industry. Many times, there are announcements after the Expo of someone new joining a team. Also, many creators connect with other creators and hatch plans to guest on each other’s podcasts during the season. Above all this, it is a whirlwind weekend of absolute joy and fun, just hanging with all your friends.

See you there next year??