This month, FanDuel will add English Premier League (EPL) soccer to its lineup of sports, Yahoo Finance has learned. It is the first new sport the daily fantasy sports company has added in the US in three years.
The addition comes at an interesting time for FanDuel, its main rival DraftKings, and the industry at large. Daily fantasy sports spent most of the past year locked in an ugly legal battle in New York, the country’s largest sports media market and the most important state for these companies. After New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman sent the two companies cease-and-desist letters last year, calling them illegal gambling operators. FanDuel and DraftKings had to shut down for months as a result, but in June, the state legislature passed a bill legalizing and protecting daily fantasy, and in August, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the bill, just in time for the NFL season.
FanDuel says it was waiting for the NFL season to get underway before it launched its new soccer product. It also was likely waiting for the legal heat to pass. The company still faces legal challenges in a number of other states (see: Here’s where every state now stands on daily fantasy sports) but New York was a key domino for the business. Once New York passed its new bill, FanDuel was also able to sign a slew of new advertising deals. On the other hand, the companies have been somewhat depleted by the long legal fight; this week there were reportedly layoffs from FanDuel, though the company will not confirm those reports.
DraftKings already offers soccer, for EPL, UCL (UEFA Champions League) and MLS (Major League Soccer), and DraftKings in total offers contests for more sports (including MMA, Nascar and golf) than FanDuel does. FanDuel’s stance on that difference has always been that it would prefer to be deeper in a few key sports than shallow in more of them. As CEO Nigel Eccles explained it last year, “Do we go broad or do we go deep? Do we add soccer, and Nascar, and MMA, and golf? And when we looked at our data, we said, you know what, 80% of our revenue comes from NBA and football; it’s more important that we go deep there.”
FanDuel has seen good results from launching EPL soccer in the UK as a test run in August. It was FanDuel’s first UK launch (although the company was founded in 2009 in Scotland) and the company won’t disclose user numbers, but says the results were promising. FanDuel also has two offices in Europe: one in Edinburgh and one in Glasgow. The staff is mostly engineers, but also some marketing folks. “So we have boots on the ground in a traditional sense because we already have established offices there,” says Andy Giancamilli, EVP of revenue. “They’ve done grassroots marketing.”
The EPL is the foremost soccer league in the world, home to teams like Manchester United and Arsenal. In the last two years, both Bayern Munich and FC Barcelona have opened up US offices in New York City; they were the first foreign soccer clubs to do so. Neither of those teams plays in the EPL, but both compete in the UEFA Champions League. And FanDuel says it could certainly add more soccer leagues in the near future. You can see the writing on the wall here: FanDuel marketing partnerships with prominent soccer clubs.
To be sure, there is no guarantee that EPL soccer will be a hit right away for FanDuel. “Soccer, as much as we want it to grow in popularity in the US and be as big as the other big sports, it’s not there yet,” says Giancamilli. “It will take a little bit of time.” Some might argue that FanDuel and DraftKings both offering soccer will help with that effort, seeing as the rise of fantasy football has boosted interest in the NFL. On the other hand, NFL ratings have dropped significantly this season, though the biggest causes are up for debate.
Soccer contests on FanDuel will have eight slots and a $60,000 salary cap. Establishing the scoring rules is the most complicated part of launching a new sport. As Giancamilli explains it, “What we tried to do with the scoring is mimic the actual quality of a player in the game. So a defender can score as much as a forward. We tried to take away the randomness of whoever the goal scorer is, that’s not the most important thing. So if you’re an Arsenal fan and their defense is shutting down the other team, and you have some Arsenal defenders on your squad, we wanted to show that in the points you’re accumulating.”
The last new sports FanDuel added, three years ago, were college football and college baseball, but in March it suspended those, deciding against any NCAA contests. FanDuel’s EPL soccer contests will go live next week.
Disclaimer: Yahoo, the parent company of Yahoo Finance, offers a daily fantasy sports product.