Zynga Hires Could Have Wide-Ranging Implications for FanDuel, Daily Fantasy Sports
Legal Sports Report

FanDuel’s Zynga Hires And New Orlando Office: What Does It Mean For DFS?

FanDuel added about 40 employees from Zynga after the social gaming company laid off its entire sports division, according to a recent report.

That’s a lot of employees

According to Re/code, FanDuel hired 38 employees from the shuttered Zynga Sports 365, a division of the company that developed and ran a free-play fantasy-style NFL game. The division’s leader, Mike Taramykin, was named executive vice president of product at FanDuel, Re/code reported.

FanDuel is also opening a new office in Orlando, where the Zynga employees are based. More from the report:

Taramykin says the new team will start by simply supporting FanDuel’s existing products, which let users compete in one-day fantasy sports competitions for a small fee. “What we’re finding is the more we’re talking about FanDuel’s roadmap, the more we realize how much of the work we’ve done in related products really applies,” he added, saying it was too early to tell if the new hires will be building new products.

FanDuel isn’t sharing how much money it’s spending on the hiring spree and new office. The company does, however, plan to double its U.S. workforce from 80 people at the beginning of May to more than 160 by the end of the year, according to a spokesperson.

Even for daily fantasy sports leader FanDuel, that sounds like a lot of new hires, although it comes several months before the busy season of NFL. In the long term, the move would seem to be less about manpower and more about bringing a different voice or skill set into the company.

Why it’s even more interesting

Clearly, the addition of the Zynga employees to the roster at FanDuel is fascinating simply on its face. Here’s some of the additional speculation and intrigue, some of which might be filed under coincidence:

  • Although FanDuel, DraftKings and most DFS sites operate in Florida, they do so in somewhat of a gray area. Per iGaming legal expert Daniel Wallach

 

  • Taramykin is a veteran of video gaming company EA Sports, where he managed the company’s Tiger Woods PGA TOUR franchise and its social gaming offerings. The hires of the Zynga staff and Taramykin might indicate a number of things. FD could be looking to integrate more social or “gaming” aspects into its product, or perhaps create a free-play offering for players who do not want to wager real-money. The Zynga NFL game was based on real players, but not on real-life occurrences. And, of course, fantasy golf is the hot new vertical in DFS.
  • Zynga Sports held one-year licenses with the NFL and another with NFL Players Inc. Could it be that FanDuel sees an avenue to get the NFL on board, since the league is still tepid about backing a real-money DFS site? FanDuel already has deals in place with half of the NFL’s franchises leading up to this season.
  • Wallach also points out that FanDuel has a team partnership with the Orlando Magic. The deal from last August is believed to be the first struck between a U.S-based DFS site and a pro team in America.
  • Disney/ESPN have had a reported deal in place with DraftKings for nearly a month and a half, with no word of a final deal being inked. Disney, obviously, has some pretty solid ties to Orlando. That seems like it must be a massive coincidence. But one worth noting.

Something brewing?

Coupled with other recent industry news and speculation, the Zynga addition appears to portend something big is going on at FanDuel. The site recently took down its financial information that it used to release quarterly. And some from the DFS and gaming spaces believe that news might mean an IPO is coming:

Regardless of a possible FanDuel IPO, the next year — and specifically this coming NFL season — is a huge one for the future of the DFS industry and how it shakes out. Yahoo is still planning to enter the space this fall. DraftKings has built up momentum with a partnership with Major League Baseball and contests/deals in several new sports that FanDuel doesn’t offer (MMA/UFC and NASCAR).

The new office and the infusion of manpower likely will have a large impact on the future of FanDuel and DFS. We will have to wait and see exactly what that impact is.

Photo by Bill Dickinson used under license CC BY-SA 3.0.

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.