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The daily fantasy sports industry is still trying to perfect its recipe, and a new flavor is hitting the shelves for the upcoming season. FanDuel’s Championship leagues are its most recent attempt to provide crossover appeal to a wide variety of fantasy sports palates.
First reported by Yahoo, the format allows players to create private leagues with their friends and run weekly contests within them. FanDuel does all the heavy lifting, providing a season-long leaderboard and the platform for prize management.
According to a release from the company, the new offering is designed to bridge the gap between those who favor season-long contests and those who have a preference for daily games:
The new leagues give fans the opportunity to play season-long fantasy using FanDuel’s salary cap roster format, without having to deal with typical issues that arise in traditional season-long formats, such as injuries, dues collection and payment, or friends who lose interest and stop playing midseason. The new leagues also give participants the opportunity to win more throughout the season – dues are collected upfront and commissioners can pre-set weekly winner payouts and the end-of-season grand prize.
“Championship” leagues will provide participants with increased in-season flexibility compared to traditional season-long leagues. Unlike the existing formats that lock after Week 1, FanDuel’s new offering will allow friends to create new leagues at any time throughout the NFL season.
The structure of Championship leagues should be familiar to both daily and season-long fantasy players. This updated offering adds a few more features to the concept, though.
Here’s how it works:
FanDuel expounds on the main selling points. The up-front fee alleviates concern over contests not filling or players abandoning their teams. Drafting a new team each week mitigates the season-long frustrations of injuries and underperforming players, too.
Commissioners can create free or paid leagues at any time during the season, and the postseason is even in play. Neither is typically the case in conventional season-long leagues.
When DFS contests rolled out on a large scale, the word “season-long” was almost taboo. Operators tried to differentiate themselves from traditional fantasy sports games. Enormous prize pools and aggressive ad campaigns were the focus — and with some good success, too. Early customers came quickly and in large numbers.
That angle ultimately proved a bit incomplete, though, and the product has since been tailored to tempt a broader audience. Prior to the 2016 NFL season, DraftKings introduced its “Leagues” format, the first real hybrid of daily and season-long contests.
Chief operating officer Paul Liberman explained the rationale behind the addition at the time. “The goal was to create almost a private version of DraftKings, for you and your friends and your colleagues,” Liberman said, “and to make it easier to smack talk amongst a small group.”
Regardless of the nomenclature, it was one of the first real efforts to turn DFS into a season-long, social experience.
Both FanDuel and Yahoo responded with their own season-long offerings immediately thereafter.
FanDuel’s Friends Mode was among the first to embrace the “season-long” moniker, and it offered some of the same features as DraftKings’ Leagues. Yahoo launched its Yahoo Cup with a global leaderboard (rather than private), but it’s a similar concept.
With the recent additions, FanDuel now thinks it has the best season-long offering in the industry. CEO Nigel Eccles said so:
We’re entering football season stronger than ever and are changing the way people play season-long fantasy – we’ve truly designed an offering with commissioners in mind. This is our big jump into the season-long fantasy market and there isn’t another product that gives users the flexibility and prize options that we have now.
The rebranded Championship leagues serve as an extension of Friends Mode, and they are now live on the FanDuel client.
Appealing to season-long players is a necessary pivot for the young DFS industry. Fantasy sports culture includes a deeply embedded social component which had been entirely absent from early offerings. FanDuel seems to understand the need to adapt.
The name “Friends Mode” for their initial season-long offering was no accident, after all. The new Championship leagues include a chat feature, too, as trash talk is a fundamental feature of most season-long leagues. Their main navigation displays the “Friends” section prominently, both on desktop and mobile. They even push their referral program with the tagline, “FanDuel is better with friends.”
The inclusion of season-long games underscores a larger shift in marketing tactics, as well. Operators are moving away from customer acquisition through conventional advertising (which is expensive) and toward organic, socially driven growth (which is comparatively free).
With tens of millions of season-long players looking for a game, tapping into a larger percentage of that market would seem to be a fruitful pursuit.