FanDuel, DraftKings Set to Compete for the American Sports Gambler in 2019
Here is this week’s edition of SCREENSHOTS, a weekly report from the intersection of sports, media, and the Internet.
Sitting on a beige bean bag in FanDuel’s New York headquarters, wearing the Silicon Valley standard quarter-zip and jeans, chief product officer Nik Bonaddio is ready to discuss round two. Three years ago, FanDuel burst onto the scene with an unprecedented media ad blitz pushing its daily fantasy sports product, leveraging a legal gray area, and waging war with DraftKings.
The landscape has since changed. FanDuel was purchased by European bookmaker Paddy Power Betfair while DraftKings has built itself into a known commodity. The two now cooperatively advocate for the gaming industry and each has matured its marketing approach. But in 2019, they will battle again.
With the Supreme Court opening the door for states to legalize sports gambling this year, FanDuel and DraftKings have emerged as power players. A few numbers to consider:
• Since online sports gambling became legal in New Jersey in June, the state has seen $1 billion worth of bets placed.
• A third of that $1 billion came in November alone.
• Nearly 75% of money wagered arrives on digital platforms, according to the Action Network.
• DraftKings (in partnership with Resorts Casino) led operators with $7.3 million in revenue in November. FanDuel (and Meadowlands Racetrack) was second with $7.0 million. No one else made more than $3 million.
In response to stats like those, and with an eye towards 2019, Sports Business Journal awarded “The American Sports Gambler” the title of most influential people in sports business. Following N.J., West Virginia will be coming online soon, with Pennsylvania and Washington D.C., expected to follow thereafter. At that point, states will have to explain why they’re turning down the potential benefits of joining the ranks. So, how important will 2019 be in establishing the mobile sports betting hierarchy?
“Very,” Bonaddio says. FanDuel’s ability to continue growing both in New Jersey and into new states next year, he believes, will prove the company’s potential over a longer time frame. But at the same time, Bonaddio has his sights set well down the line.
“Right now every single product looks exactly the same, and eventually someone—it should be us—but someone is going to look at that and be like, jeez, this isn’t the right interface,” he says. “In three years there is going to be a totally different sportsbook experience just in terms of the way you use it. I’m not doing my job unless we’re the ones that are a force of innovation.”
Hungry for improvement, FanDuel employees collect and categorize every comment or complaint from every online forum they can, tagging each based on topic (gameplay, payments, etc.) and then considering how to adjust the product’s roadmap.
Boston-based DraftKings shares the same priorities. “The number one thing we are focused on is consumer experience,” co-founder Matt Kalish says, “building trust, being responsive to players and making sure our product is the most innovative.”
DraftKings has the benefit of 10 million registered players for its daily fantasy app. Its lead in New Jersey can be directly traced back to it beating FanDuel to market after the state legalized sports betting. And when it enters new states, its current national infrastructure will help it adapt to state-specific legal restrictions. That all helps, Kalish says, but, “in the long-term, the best product is going to win.”
The competitors are coming. Looking at numbers from New Jersey, gambling industry analyst Chris Grove of legalsportsreport.com was quick to point out that Las Vegas institutions like MGM have not released a full-fledged competitor to the fantasy sport contenders. “It’s impressive what [DraftKings and FanDuel] are doing, but it’s important to position that success against the accurate backdrop of light competition,” he said. “Twelve months from now, there will be a significantly different competitive landscape.” He still sees a major role for the two digital newcomers, but expects a high degree of fragmentation, especially across a range of states.
theScore officially announced its entrance this week, partnering with Monmouth Park to launch an online gambling operation next year. “We have people hitting our app 120 times per month, and right now they are going to other betting platforms,” CEO John Levy said. “Our whole mantra is going to be: Don’t give them any excuse to leave us. We can facilitate.”
The company has embraced bettors since it ran a TV channel in Canada, and its popular sports news and scores app currently defaults to show spreads and totals for most games. “This is a longterm play,” Levy added. “We want to be best in market.” For now, he said that wager pricing will be set independently of the app’s current media revenue, but the possibility of an information app leveraging betting opportunities to keep users engaged and ultimately profiting orthogonally points towards how much more innovation is out there in mobile sports betting.
“I’m not worried about DraftKings,” Bonaddio says, still positioned in front of a glowing screen in FanDuel’s Flatiron District office space, “as much as I’m worried about some kid sitting in a frat house at Stanford right now, looking at it and thinking, ‘Wow, this is the way my dad bets.’”
The Venmo/Uber/Tinder/Spotify of sports gambling is coming. You can bet on it.
UNI WATCH MOVING ON FROM ESPN
After 14 years writing a weekly sports uniform design column for ESPN.com, Paul Lukas is ready to put on some new duds. Since 2004, he has chronicled jersey makeovers as well as minor updates on the site (after previous stops at the Village Voice and Slate), watching the uniform industry explode with special editions while also creating the space for others to carry out sports fashion deep dives.
“Uni Watch is the gold standard of a genre Paul created,” an ESPN spokesman said in a statement. “His insights and meticulous curation of athletic uniforms is matched only by his passion for telling the stories behind every color change, stripe and patch ever designed. We wish Paul and Uni Watch all the best.”
Early success at the website led Lukas to launch his own blog, uni-watch.com, moving from a weekly publication schedule to a daily rhythm. It was there that Lukas published a surprisingly transparent post about his looming departure from ESPN. Over 2,500 words, the detail-oriented observer broke down how much of his income came from the column gig (76%), the last time he thought about giving up the job (after the 2016 election left him wondering “if I should be doing something more important than writing about uniforms”), and what happens now (“basically,” he wrote, “everything is in flux”). Here’s what Lukas had to say when he spoke with SI on Wednesday. The following has been edited for clarity and concision.
On his departure from ESPN:
“If you are asking, ‘Why is ESPN letting me go?’, I don’t know, you’d have to ask them. Obviously there have been hundreds of layoffs there over the last couple of years; I feel extremely fortunate to have lasted as long as I did and have the opportunity to have my work showcased on the premier sports media platform. There are no hard feelings on my end.”
“Uni Watch’s future—both as a column and as a website—is bright. There are other opportunities and possibilities out there, some of which I’m already in discussion for.”
On being forthright with his readers:
“I often default toward transparency. Maybe I default to a fault in that way. I don’t know if it was too much.”
“I do feel a connection with my readers. While I’m talking to you, they are e-mailing me, tweeting me, sending me observations of what they saw watching a game or flipping through a magazine or digging through their attic and that’s awesome. I have a very engaged readership. I try to return that engagement basically. When big changes are coming, I feel—it felt fairly natural to share that thought process with my readership.”
“We don’t have a subscription system in place but I got a couple dozen donations yesterday. That was surprising and gratifying. I think it shows the sense of connection and intimacy in the Uni Watch community where it felt natural for me to tell them and natural for them to respond with donations to support me.”
On the state of Uni Watch
“Traffic is good. We do 150,000 uniques a month and have been relatively steady for a few years. Growth would be nice, but it’s possible that that’s simply as much of an audience as there is that wants to read this stuff every day…. The team is about eight to 10 at a given moment.”
“People come to Uni Watch in different ways. I definitely have a larger Twitter following. I have 125,000 Twitter followers; we do not have 125,000 daily readers. It is frustrating sometimes people will say, ‘I’m a big fan. I love your Twitter feed!’ Which is great, I guess, thanks, but maybe if you like the Twitter feed you’ll find so much more information and so much more everything on my blog. But that’s just the nature of social media.”
On the state of jerseys at the end of 2018
“I haven’t tried to think about things in a year-by-year way. I’m not sure a particular trend jumps out to me, except what we are seeing in the NBA, which released the “Earned” jerseys that seem like a microcosm of the larger trend that with so many options and teams coming out with so many designs, the carousel of design is faster than it used to be. It all seems unsustainable.”
“It seems to be more quantity than quality right now. On the one hand it gives me plenty to write about, but I wish the signal to noise were a bit better because it’s more fun to write about good things.”
“I’ll also say this, the pendulum tends to swing back. Just literally yesterday the Miami Dolphins asked permission to wear their throwbacks for a third home game when they are normally only allowed to do it twice. Everyone was happy because everyone loves the throwbacks. And a lot of teams have either done that—gone back to the basics—or are headed that way.”
“Most of the earlier designs that people seem to like and stood the test of time were created in an era when the only question that you really asked when creating a uniform design was how does this look on the field. Today that’s the third or fourth question. The first question is will this sell to 18-34 year-olds?”
• Fox Sports CEO Eric Shanks chatted with Bloomberg about his live sports-heavy strategy.
• Are we talking enough about Jim Nantz calling Tom Brady “Mr. Cool” Sunday?
• Head to The New York Times to admire some beautiful Trailblazers game posters, and stay for the Scott Cacciola story on how they came to exist.
• Good news for women’s basketball: The WNBA will get three ABC broadcasts and two ESPN telecasts next season.
• Sports media nuts will love NBC Sports’ new history site, which chronicles the companies growth since NBC Radio emerged on the scene in the 1920s and includes “never-before-seen interviews with the likes of Dick Ebersol, Vin Scully, Dick Enberg, Don Ohlmeyer and Ken Schanzer, among others.”
• Last week, Fortnite streamer Ninja simulcast a Thursday Night Football game, drawing over 30,000 viewers in crunch time. His push into “traditional” sports is only just beginning.
• Amazon’s Prime Video service continues to add sports channels, this time incorporating PGA TOUR LIVE.
• As Andrew Marchand reported, Booger McFarland will join Jason Witten and Joe Tessitore in the traditional booth for ESPN International’s Super Bowl broadcast. Will be interesting to hear how that goes...
THANK YOU, INTERNET…
…for these pictures of monks balling.