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FanDuel goes after ESPN, other season-long fantasy sports providers

A FanDuel logo is displayed on a board inside of the DFS Players Conference.
A FanDuel logo is displayed on a board inside of the DFS Players Conference.

Daily fantasy sports platform FanDuel announced on August 1 a bold new feature that takes on the bigger, more entrenched “season-long” fantasy sports providers. And today that feature goes live to all FanDuel users.

The feature is called Friends Mode, and it allows FanDuel users to set up private, recurring leagues to play against friends every week of the season. (The core of the FanDuel product, in the past, was for users to enter large prize pools with strangers.) The format of this is still “daily” fantasy, meaning that every week, users can draft a new team, but by making it recurring, and closed for friends, it essentially becomes season-long structure.

Beginning this afternoon, August 25, all users will see a “Friends” tab on the FanDuel desktop web site and mobile app. Commissioners (something that didn’t previously exist on FanDuel) can start up a league, create an initial contest, set the entry fee, and invite friends. Once a league is created, it automatically creates a recurring weekly contest. But users can join an existing league, or invite new friends to an existing league, any week during the season. That is not the case with traditional season-long fantasy sports, where a group of, say, 12 friends will conduct a draft before the NFL season, choose a team, and stick with that team for the entire year.

FanDuel Friends Mode
FanDuel Friends Mode

FanDuel is making no bones about the fact that Friends Mode represents a foray into season-long fantasy: the company calls it a “season-long fantasy product.”

And CEO Nigel Eccles takes it one step further, calling out competitors. “Our business is growing, we’re expanding into new areas,” he tells Yahoo Finance. “And we’re going to be competing directly against ESPN, Yahoo, and other fantasy providers. Friends Mode is going to transform fantasy sports.”

It is interesting that Eccles specifically names ESPN. On Wednesday, ESPN released a nearly-11,000-word Outside The Lines investigation story on the so-called “fall” of the daily fantasy sports industry.

The story met with criticism—and not just from those inside the industry the story targeted—for being hyperbolic and arguably slanted. The story claimed that the industry has “imploded,” but considering that New York, the state seen as the most important standard-bearer for the future legality of fantasy sports contests, expressly legalized them this month, it is not at all correct to say that the industry has “imploded.”

Fortune published a story criticizing the ESPN story, in which reporter Dan Primack retorted the ESPN story piece by piece. The story, Primack writes, “proves utterly unable” to prove its stated premise.

FanDuel is hardly the only daily fantasy sports provider doing this. While it was first to announce its season-long-style feature, DraftKings was first to launch its own season-long play, which is called Leagues and went live on August 16. It is similar in nature to FanDuel Friends Mode. Even Yahoo (YHOO), a longtime season-long fantasy sports provider that entered daily fantasy sports last year, has rolled out a new ‘daily fantasy in a season-long setting’ feature, the Yahoo Cup.

All of the biggest daily fantasy sports providers, it appears, are dipping a toe into the larger season-long business.

Disclaimer: Yahoo, which offers a daily fantasy sports product, is the parent company of Yahoo Finance.

Daniel Roberts is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering sports business and technology. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite. Sportsbook is our recurring sports business video series.

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