The CEO of a daily fantasy sports site for soccer recently laid out a pretty good argument on why the vertical could still explode in the coming months and years.
High on non-American football?
The United States market gets most of the attention in the world of daily fantasy sports. And rightfully so: Metrics across the industry have shown huge growth in recent years, and the potential for even more. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been invested in sites like FanDuel and DraftKings.
But for those who got a chance to attend or listen to a recent DFS panel at the Global iGaming Summit & Expo (GiGse), a pretty concise argument was laid out for a bullish future of DFS for soccer in Europe. Shergul Arshad, CEO of Mondogoal, a soccer DFS site, busted a lot of myths and misconceptions for attendees, addressing topics such as:
- The number of fantasy players in Europe.
- Sports betting vs. DFS.
- The NFL vs. soccer.
There is no shortage of people who doubt that daily fantasy sports can gain a ton of traction in markets outside of the U.S., and there are certainly hurdles to overcome.
But there are also optimists outside of people with a vested interest in European-facing DFS companies; even Eilers Research predicted that DFS will start to “gain awareness” in Europe in coming years. Mondogoal itself has seen a quick rise, launching last year for the World Cup and earning an award nomination for its digital platform.
DFS for Europe has some pretty big advantages — or actually lacks perceived disadvantages — over its American counterparts, Arshad explained at GiGse. Here’s a rundown of some of Arshad’s major points:
Fantasy isn’t really that new
The potential market for DFS in soccer/Europe isn’t nearly as small as some people might believe. While estimates in the United States place the number of people playing fantasy sports (mostly of the season-long variety) at greater than 40 million, Arshad says there are about 30 million fantasy players across Europe, half of which are in the U.K.
“That’s smaller, but it’s a pretty damn big market,” Arshad said at GiGse. “And, the way we look at it, it’s not fragmented across six or seven sports. It’s soccer, and soccer and soccer and soccer.”
Arshad talked more about the history of U.K. fantasy in an interview earlier this year at Law in Sport. A TV show called “Fantasy Football League” was actually around more than 20 years ago. So the idea that next to no one knows what fantasy is in the U.K. is a myth. Certainly fantasy doesn’t have quite the penetration as in the U.S., but it’s less than the miniscule numbers some people might imagine.
People are watching
At the same time, soccer provides a higher possible ceiling for DFS, since it’s the most popular sport in the world. Arshad contended that “the average Premier League game outdoes the Super Bowl every weekend in ratings.”
(We’re not sure how accurate that claim is, but getting accurate worldwide TV viewership numbers for individual matches isn’t very easy. According to the league website: “The TV audience for Premier League games is 4.7bn, and the number of homes reached last season increased 11 per cent to 643m.”)
“One of the reasons we’ve chosen the sport (soccer), it’s the global dominating sport,” Arshad said. “It’s actually insulting when you hear people call it a niche sport. Most people (outside of the U.S.) call the NFL a niche sport.”
Arshad went on to talk about the value of team partnerships with soccer clubs vs. American football teams. Mondogoal recently signed a partnership with FC Barcelona in Spain, adding to deals already inked with Premier League and Italian Serie A teams. How valuable are those?
“From a scale perspective, it’s looking at a club like Barcelona with 80 million Facebook fans,” Arshad explained. “If you take all 32 teams in the NFL and add them altogether, you get to 80 million (Facebook fans). So when you say ‘What’s the value of partnering?’ For us it’s scale, it’s getting to really big numbers, it’s visibility. It also just shows that sort of outside-of-the-U.S. mindset that it’s a soccer dominated world.”
Sports betting does not equal DFS?
The ubiquitous nature of sports betting in jurisdictions like the U.K. can make the market a bit difficult to dissect. Some believe the prevalence of sports betting makes it difficult for DFS to gain a foothold, but Arshad doesn’t see it that way. After listing the myriad ways you can book a sports bet, Arshad broke down his site’s targeted audience:
“They say ‘Why in the heck would anyone take 15 minutes to build a daily fantasy lineup, to play for five bucks or whatever, to displace their (sports betting) habits?” And again the profile we’re seeing, it’s a completely different game. They are two different audiences. Fantasy sports has been going on for 20 plus years in the U.K. and the rest of Europe. These are people that are passionate, there’s millions of people playing fantasy leagues, there’s a skill and control to building a team.
So what we’re seeing I guess from a customer profile standpoint…this can kind of be their entryway into playing a skill game for cash. I think a lot of the operators that are looking at this space that have large European bases are kind of scratching their heads wondering “Could this be a huge complementary revenue stream?’
At the same time, sports betting can make the transition to DFS for real money easier. Arshad notes that there are “tens of millions” of people in Europe who already have online accounts for booking bets. The barrier to getting people to play for real money DFS is lower in Europe than in the U.S., in that respect.
“When you start to activate soccer fans around the world who are used to putting hundreds of pounds every week into sports betting…Now you are giving them a skill game, where they are actually building fantasy teams, and are winning huge [sums],” Arshad said. “And as the pot sizes keep growing, the lifetime value keeps growing as well.”
It’s not that there aren’t challenges
The problem with the European market is it’s not as easy to access as America’s, of course, You need a license to operate in different jurisdictions; Mondogoal does have a license for the U.K. And Arshad talks about the plan on expanding into other countries in the previously mentioned Law in Sport article.
(As a side note, Amaya Gaming, which plans to get into the DFS market this fall, might try to leverage gaming licenses it already holds in several European countries.)
And, there’s a flipside to most of the arguments listed above. Season-long fantasy players, soccer fans and sports bettors still need to be converted into DFS players at a higher rate if the market for sites like Mondogoal is going truly to take off.
But in the end, the possibility for DFS soccer in Europe to explode certainly exists.