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As sports media rapidly evolves, FanDuel signals move into content

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer
FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles (Reuters)

Daily fantasy sports platform FanDuel has struck a partnership with radio platform TuneIn to make TuneIn its “official streaming audio partner.”

On its face, the pact is rather standard. FanDuel users will get the same offer from TuneIn that all consumers get: a free 30-day trial, then $10 per month for TuneIn Premium, which offers access to live play-by-play broadcasts of NFL, MLB, and NBA games, among 100,000 radio stations, as well as 60,000 audiobooks. FanDuel will also add a “listen on TuneIn” button inside its app so that when users are tracking the performance of their fantasy lineup, they can listen to a game broadcast live on any device, without leaving the FanDuel app.

But FanDuel and its former frenemy, DraftKings, are seeking to merge into one company later this year, if regulators approve it, and both are showing signs that they aim to go bigger on original content. Linking up with TuneIn fits that gameplan for FanDuel.

In fact, as the sports media industry roils, fantasy sports companies might emerge as the next place for original sports content online. ESPN, Sports Illustrated, and Bleacher Report have all had layoffs recently; FanDuel and DraftKings, meanwhile, have staffed up.

“DraftKings and FanDuel need to keep up and become content businesses,” Ryan Moore, an early DraftKings investor, told the Boston Herald last month. Indeed, the two companies are doing that.

In September, DraftKings launched a secondary app, DK Live, that offers live game scores and highlights. Users can jump back and forth between the main DraftKings app and DK Live when closely monitoring the performance of players in their lineups. You can see what’s next: beefing up the experience on DK Live with original content like articles, commentary, and videos.

TuneIn, which has been around since 2002 (originally as RadioTime), has 60 million monthly active users (it does not disclose how many of those pay for the premium service) and rights deals with all the major leagues and with ESPN Radio, among many other radio properties. The company is backed by heavy-hitter VC firms like Sequoia, Google Ventures, General Catalyst, and Comcast Ventures. TuneIn says it serves “the displaced fan,” in the words of business development VP Tony Archibong. If you’re a Cubs fan living in New York who wants to hear the local Chicago radio broadcast of the Cubs game, TuneIn has you covered. (Yes, your other option would be SiriusXM, but that is only in the US and is mainly for use in your car—mobile streaming carries an additional fee—whereas TuneIn is global and a subscription gets you access on all devices.)

This is TuneIn’s first fantasy-sports partnership and its first partnership in which the partner is making a design change to its platform to accommodate TuneIn (FanDuel adding a live TuneIn button inside its mobile app and desktop site).

A screen from a promo video announcing FanDuel’s deal with TuneIn.

For now, FanDuel users will get whatever other TuneIn members get, nothing extra or special. (Archibong says FanDuel users are “getting a frictionless level of access to understanding their lineups better.”) But bigger things are likely on the horizon here.

“What we haven’t yet done,” Archibong says, “is say, ‘Hey, what if we created a 24/7 fantasy talk show and made it exclusive to FanDuel users and launched it from their app in an exclusive way. We have the capability to do that kind of thing, if FanDuel didn’t want to do it on its own. That is probably in my opinion the pinnacle of a partnership.”

It sounds like FanDuel indeed wants to do it, but whether it uses TuneIn is a different question. FanDuel in 2015 acquired sports analytics firm NumberFire, which this year launched its own podcast network.

“We are dedicated to elevating the game-day experience for sports fans and making that experience more immersive on our platform,” says Mike Pine, FanDuel’s head of partnerships. “Content and sports go hand-in-hand and this partnership represents our first big step to bring live sports content directly into the fantasy sports environment.”

Content is the key. In late 2015, FanDuel hired a small handful of writers and on-camera talent away from Sports Illustrated in an effort to produce more original content. But amid legal problems, and facing rising costs, it laid those people off in under a year. (FanDuel says many of them were seasonal or contract workers.) Soon, expect FanDuel to try again.

In fact, FanDuel has added 13 new sponsors in the last 12 months, including Bud Light and Corona (both owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev), Sling TV (a DISH service), Bacardi, and Universal Studios. This week, it announced a unique promotion with the WNBA. (It also added golf to its lineup of sports this year; see the below video interview with CEO Nigel Eccles.)

FanDuel only started bringing on sponsors two years ago. As it grows that list, look for many of the deals to involve content, rather than just slapping a paid banner ad on its app.

Why are DraftKings and FanDuel attractive to potential partners and sponsors, despite just having emerged from a damaging year of legal battles? For the same reason that a large Irish betting giant that previously had no involvement in US fantasy sports, Paddy Power Betfair, just spent $19 million (and potentially $48 million total) to acquire a small daily fantasy app.

“They have a ridiculously engaged fan base, tied to sports seasons that we have great content on,” says TuneIn’s Archibong, talking about FanDuel but also making a point that applies to the entire daily fantasy space—still small, but growing quickly and extremely passionate about the product. “It’s about their audience size, audience makeup, and the level of engagement on their platform.”

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.

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