An estimated 60 million Americans play fantasy sports, and the leading driver of the industry is widely thought to be football. After all, the NFL is the biggest American sports league by revenue (expected to hit $14 billion this season) and an entire cottage industry has appeared around strategies for drafting your “season-long” fantasy football team.
But both DraftKings and FanDuel, the two leading companies that offer “daily” fantasy sports (DFS), the newer, faster category of fantasy that exploded in 2012, say that the NBA has surpassed or will imminently surpass the NFL for them by certain metrics.
NBA bigger than NFL for daily fantasy
For FanDuel, its NBA contests surpassed NFL contests by revenue last year. DraftKings projects that NBA will surpass NFL this coming NBA season.
FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles says NBA surpassed NFL thanks to the volume of games (1,230 games per season, vs just 256 in the NFL) and because basketball, “is a great daily fantasy game—it’s high scoring, it’s exciting, and you’re done within a few hours.” After NBA comes NFL, then MLB, and then NHL for FanDuel entry volume.
DraftKings CEO Jason Robins, too, believes DFS can eventually be more popular than traditional fantasy, thanks to the easy-entry format, and thanks to sports like MLB, NHL, and NBA.
“I’ll use myself as an example,” Robins says. “It took me a long time to try a lot of the [season-long] fantasy sports, including football but especially the ones that were daily, like baseball, hockey, and basketball. It just felt like too big of a commitment… and I said, ‘What if I don’t like this, I’m really going to sign up for a whole year?’ It’s totally different to be like, ‘I can go try it today and if I don’t like it, I never have to play again.’ So I think that will get more new people in the market.”
[FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles and DraftKings CEO Jason Robins were the special guests (separately) on Episode 4 of our Sportsbook podcast on the business of football. You can listen here or scroll to the bottom of this post.]
DraftKings and FanDuel attempted to merge this year, but called it off when it became clear regulators frowned on the dominant DFS market share the combined entity would enjoy.
Now that the two companies are back to competing head to head, they have each adjusted their advertising approach and rolled out new games and features (including options that place “daily” fantasy in a season-long structure) that attempt to make DFS more social and easier to pick up and play, and thus more appealing to casual users who may have stayed away.
For example, DraftKings, on Thursday, launched an integration with Amazon Alexa, called Ask DraftKings, where users can request real-time stats, like, “Alexa, how many fantasy points does Tom Brady have today?” The Alexa “skill” is only for NFL at first, but will eventually be available for all 10 sports DraftKings offers.
And that is their biggest task: they need to lure people who play traditional “season-long” fantasy to try DFS. Their runway is long: of the 60 million people who play fantasy sports, only 10 million have registered for DraftKings or FanDuel, and of that, only an estimated 3 million are “active” DFS users.
“I’ve been asked the question before,” says Robins, “‘Hey, you guys did all that advertising in 2015, didn’t you get everybody? Why didn’t you get everybody?’ And that’s just not how a lot of products work, and it’s definitely not how this product works.”
Daily fantasy must get more diverse
The companies also need to attract more diverse users than they have thus far. A 2017 report from Eilers & Krejcik Gaming determined that the DFS demographic right now is 95% white, male, and between the ages of 25-35. Meanwhile, 45% of NFL fans are women—but they’re not yet playing DFS.
They know they need to get more diverse.
“Yes, absolutely, historically it is white, male, college-educated, and kind of been stuck in that demographic,” says Eccles. “What I would say is some other sports, particularly NBA, have got more diverse demographics… And EPL [English Premier League] appeals to a different demographic. And so, with the addition of new sports, with the addition of new formats, we are seeing something of a shift.”
Eccles foresees the number of fantasy sports players growing from 60 million to 100 million in the next five years. “It’s obviously going to be totally mobile-based, and we’ll no longer talk about ‘daily’ and ‘season-long’ because I think it will just become one of the many different variants you can play,” he says. “I start to see a continuum of different fantasy games, but reaching a much broader audience.”
It sounds like that continuum will grow mostly from sports other than football.