DraftKings CEO Robins: Going Public “Last Thing On Our Mind”

Posted on May 18, 2015
Posted By on May 18, 2015

DraftKings was included on this year’s Distruptor 50 list at CNBC, and CEO Jason Robins said that the possibility of taking the company public was not really on his radar in a segment on the network’s Mad Money program.

How did DraftKings get on the list?

DraftKings got some mainstream publicity from CNBC, earning a spot on the Disruptor 50 list and receiving some airtime on one of the network’s most popular shows.

The list includes only privately held companies; here is the description of the list from CNBC:

In the third annual Disruptor 50 list, CNBC features private companies in 16 industries—from aerospace to financial services to cybersecurity to retail—whose innovations are revolutionizing the business landscape. These forward-thinking upstarts have identified unexploited niches in the marketplace that have the potential to become billion-dollar businesses, and they rushed to fill them.

That puts DraftKings in some pretty heady territory, as some of the other companies on the list are nearly household names — Uber, Airbnb, Snapchat, Pinterest and Sqaure, to name a few.

It’s interesting that DraftKings was the DFS site that got the nod, and not FanDuel, which entering this year was considered the industry leader by a pretty wide margin.

You can read about CNBC’s methodology here, which even the network admits is subjective and has limits.

Any guesses about why DraftKings was picked and not FanDuel is pretty much pure speculation. But Mad Money host Jim Cramer referred to the two DFS sites as operating in a duopoly in the segment with DraftKings’ founders.


The roughly six-minute long segment, not surprisingly, handled daily fantasy sports and DraftKings in pretty basic terms — introducing viewers to what DFS is, talking about some of the basic metrics of the industry, and so on.

There were a few interesting tidbits, including a mention of DraftKing’s future, as Cramer asked co-founders Robins and Matt Kalish about the possibility of DraftKings going public. Robins had this to say in response to a question from Cramer about the prospects of an initial public offering:

“Right now we are looking at a lot of different options, but that’s probably the last thing on our mind. We’re just trying to build a great business and engage sports fans.”

There is often speculation about FanDuel going public — possibly as soon as this year — but there has been less buzz about a DraftKings IPO. Robins has broached the subject in the past, saying it was at least possible than an IPO would happen this year or next.

You can watch the whole segment below:

Obviously, the DFS industry shifts almost daily, right now, and it seems safe to assume that an IPO is still on the table for DraftKings, despite Robins’ comments.

The Disney deal

Cramer also mentioned and asked about DraftKings’ pending deal with ESPN/Disney, in which DK would reportedly receive $250 million in funding in exchange for half a billion dollars in ad buys at the ESPN family of networks.

The initial reporting on the deal happened about a month and a half ago, but the deal has still not been publicly announced. You can still find plenty of mentions of FanDuel in ESPN’s fantasy content.

Reading the tea leaves from Mad Money makes it sound like the deal is still on, however. Cramer introduced the segment by mentioning the Disney/DraftKings deal, and saying that it was not yet completed.

Then, there were Robins’ comments later in response to a question from Cramer:

“I can’t comment specifically on the deal, but right now I think ESPN is the leader really in fantasy, they have become the company more than any that is identified with fantasy and identified with sports.”

That sounds like a deal that is still going through, not one that might not happen.

“Gambling” and “Addictive”

While the segment was generally good press for DraftKings, Cramer apparently missed the talking points of the industry when putting together the segment. He referred to DFS as both gambling and addictive over the course of talking with Robins and Kalish:

  • From Cramer’s open: “It (DFS) also happens to be one of the ways to legally gamble on the internet.”
  • More from Cramer, near the beginning of the segment: “That’s my whole goal is to not be addicted, even to sports I am not that interested in.”
  • Cramer, referring to fantasy sports’ legal status vis a vis the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act: “When I see some of these games, like NASCAR, do you think it’s lucky there’s a carveout, because it is kind of a way to gamble, legally.” Kalish mostly sidestepped the question: “We operate ten sports right now, they all have huge fan followings. And whenever there is something big in sports we want to find a way to participate, obviously staying within the boundaries that we feel like we need to.”

The carveout question alluded to DraftKings’ deal with NASCAR last week; some believe auto-racing DFS contests operate in a gray area, legally.

While the daily fantasy sports industry is making in-roads on becoming legal in more states, in some ways it appears to be losing the narrative on whether DFS is gambling or not.

More and more people are calling DFS a form of gamblinglike this Think Progress piece — instead of a skill game that is different from sports betting and other forms of wagering. Even the UIGEA author says DFS was an unintended consequence of the law. Cramer’s comments and questions are just the latest example of the tide that seems to be turning against DFS’ status as a non-gambling activity.

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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.

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