Draft Ops Plans New Game Formats, More Big Sponsorship Deals
Legal Sports Report

After Sneaking Up On Daily Fantasy Sports Industry, Draft Ops Has Plans To Crack Top Tier

Daily fantasy sports site Draft Ops made its presence known last month by announcing a flashy sponsorship deal with Barclays Center in Brooklyn. And the upstart DFS operator is not done there, as the site is not being shy about its plans to compete at the top levels of the industry.

Where did Draft Ops come from?

Before the Barclays deal, Draft Ops was one of several small DFS sites trying to separate itself from the pack. Its biggest splash previously had been a deal with Bellator, a mixed martial arts promotion, signed in January. As recently as earlier this year, Draft Ops only offered MMA fantasy contests.

Along with breaking news of the Barclays deal, a Forbes article related that Draft Ops had raised $7 million in a “friends and family” investment round. The Doumani family is one that is well known in Las Vegas in real estate and gaming — most famously, their family once owned the Tropicana.

Translation: There are deep pockets behind Draft Ops, even without a round of public funding. But Draft Ops does plan to raise venture capital as well, Ronald Doumani, president of Draft Ops, said in a recent interview with Legal Sports Report. Their advantage over some others in the space? With some money already behind them, they can afford to be a little picky.

“We have our own resources, but we want to take it to the institutional level,” Doumani said. “This is a sexy industry, and there are a lot of people with money that want to be a part of this industry. We just want to make sure we make the right decision, and have the right partner for long-term growth. We’re very scrutinizing on who we ultimately engage with.”

More on the Draft Ops-Barclays deal

The agreement with the Barclays Center — home of the Brooklyn Nets (NBA) and New York Islanders (NHL) — was reported first by Forbes and was just finalized this week.

The deal, struck with the Islanders and the arena itself, carries with it a number of ways for Draft Ops to garner marketing exposure. The details, according to a press release:

  • The Draft Ops Ice Club will be located right next to the rink for Islanders home games. The area is being called a “luxury hockey experience that is unmatched by other NHL venues.”
  • The deal creates the Draft Ops Fantasy Lounge on the main concourse. Draft Ops will be able to engage fans here and play fantasy sports and watch games via televisions and “touch-screen displays.” (Of note is that the lounge had been originally referred to as a “fantasy sports book.” As we’ve pointed out before, linking fantasy sports to sports books brings with it potential pitfalls.)
  • There will be TV-visible and other in-arena LED signage, along with a presence on the Zamboni.
  • Draft Ops will appear on the press backdrop for Islanders and other Barclays Center press conferences.
  • The agreement creates the Draft Ops Islanders Stats Platform, “a multi-faceted integration of the team’s statistics that will be displayed in-arena and online.”

“Fantasy sports gaming is a booming industry and we are excited that Draft Ops will further build its business through a fully integrated alliance with the New York Islanders in Brooklyn and Barclays Center,” said Brett Yormark, CEO of Barclays Center, in the press release.

The idea of partnering with sports venues for marketing purposes is one that has quickly gained traction in the DFS industry:

Legal Sports Report believes that Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., and Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia are two of the more attractive targets for DFS sites.

‘You’ll really feel our presence’

Draft Ops’ marketing approach seems to be different from the model established by DraftKings and FanDuel, despite the fact that DraftKings has now signed a couple of partnerships with arenas, as well.

Doumani says his company is focused on fan engagement, making it clear that he does not view some of the team deals previously signed by the “big two” as something that Draft Ops would be interested in.

“We like the idea of actually engaging fans and educating fans,” Doumani said. “At Barclays, we’ll have employees at every event in the lounge, being able to answer questions and demonstrate how products work.”

While some team deals done in the space include signage, exposure online, on TV and on radio, along with the chance to win VIP experiences, Draft Ops plans to take it a step further.

“On October 9th when the Islanders launch, if you’re in that arena, we’ll have a lot, a lot of assets,” Doumani said. “You’ll really feel our presence. We don’t want to just have some rotational signage in an arena, we want to be part of it, part of the family, part of the team, part of the brand and that’s been our approach to things.”

Not just arena deals for Draft Ops

While the marketing strategy is a huge part of what Draft Ops is doing, it’s not the only thing.

Previously, Draft Ops had done mainly salary-cap contests. But it has rolled out “Pick 3” contests — an alternative form of DFS like many sites are exploring. You pick three players in a sport (MMA and baseball, right now) for a given day, with no salary cap. Draft Ops’ software then matches your entry up against other entries. “You can draft within a minute,” Doumani said, obviously referencing the time involved in picking teams in the salary-cap model of DFS.

Doumani says you will see more of their Pick 3 contests launch for NFL season, along with a mobile app that is on the horizon.

But their plans also go beyond just beyond these types of contests, with even more DFS variants coming. Doumani said their game offerings will mesh with their plans to engage fans directly.

We’re also launching a full suite of new games in the fall that are really catered toward casual fans,” Doumani said. “We feel like the disconnect in the industry right now is that DraftKings and FanDuel are being seen as the ‘professionals’ game.’ Casual fans are taking a chance once or twice, losing their money and not returning.

“We want to focus on games that are more user-friendly and are not as intimidating for people. And as part of that, being able to engage with them directly gives you the opportunity to educate and expose them to another part of the fantasy industry, and hopefully introduce new fans to the game and re-invite people to the game who might have been in DraftKings or FanDuel at some point but lost or were confused. We want to get them reengaged in the fantasy world.”

The future for Draft Ops

The Barclays deal by Draft Ops — which has indicated it is actively pursuing other deals with venues and teams — signal just how serious the company is about competing in the DFS industry, and quickly.

The site also signed a deal to sponsor The Rich Eisen Show, which is on radio and DirecTV, just last month. And we are sure Draft Ops isn’t done yet on the marketing front.

”We will continue to increase our exposure and continue to bid on opportunities with the two giants,” a Draft Ops representative told Forbes last month. Of course, that might become more difficult after FanDuel closed a $275mm round, and DraftKings is reportedly close to its own nine-figure round.

At the same time, Doumani doesn’t necessarily view his site as direct competitors of FanDuel or DraftKings, either.

“We’re not so much in competition with sites with daily fantasy salary cap games, we’re in competition for the fantasy player in general,” Doumain said. “We still have this huge, huge universe of fantasy players and we think with our new games and our strategies, we’re presenting a much more compelling case to the user base that plays Yahoo yearlong fantasy or ESPN yearlong fantasy … that this stuff is really cool and it’s casual and you can make money and have fun.

“We’re looking at a sports fan who is not hardcore enough where he has a bookmaker,” Doumani continued. “He’s not hardcore enough that he wants to spend two hours and analyze data and decide what kind of team he wants to put on FanDuel or DraftKings, not hardcore enough that he wants to do 10 or 20 lineups. … He wants to enhance his experience as a sports fan and as a viewer, to have something to root for. And it’s that guy that we have in mind.”

Will Draft Ops succeed in attracting that fan? We’ll start finding out in earnest this fall.

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Dustin Gouker
- Dustin Gouker has been a sports journalist for more than 15 years, working as a reporter, editor and designer -- including stops at The Washington Post and the D.C. Examiner.