The main segment of the daily fantasy sports industry — led by FanDuel and DraftKings — continues to grow exponentially. At the same there appears to be a lot of room for growth and some momentum in alternative forms of DFS, that don’t rely on the salary-cap model.
Lots of other fish in the sea
Most of the market is dominated by “traditional” DFS contests that we all know well: Entrants pick a lineup of players, constrained by a salary cap, and try to score more fantasy points than their opponents.
But that’s far from the only way to do DFS. For example (this is not meant to be an exhaustive list of alternative DFS forms or the sites that offer them):
- SportsLock offers contests that are entirely bracket oriented, in which players must win heads-up contests. The site also just received a $5 million round of funding.
- DailyMVP offers contests where you attempt to pick lineups players that will outperform their expected statistics.
- DraftDay offers standard DFS contests but has a variety of non-standard games, such as contests with live drafts; “pick’em” contests with no salary cap where players are selected from “tiers”; and bracket-style contests. A number of sites offer takes on draft-style contests, where players pick in a “snake” draft format.
- Draft is a mobile-only DFS site that offers quick head-to-head competitions.
ScoreStreak was also in the category of alternative DFS sites, but it has suspended operations until it can garner an investment of $5 million.
Cal Spears, co-founder of RotoGrinders, is among those who sees a lot of potential in alternative DFS forms.
“I think there is plenty of opportunity for DFS game providers that diverge from the FanDuel/DraftKings model,” Spears told Legal Sports Report. “We haven’t had a success story here yet, but it’s early. Fantasy sports are fun and social. Add in the ability to win significant prizes and you’ve got an incredible cocktail for success. While I wouldn’t aspire to billion dollar valuations, I see no reason why there can’t be successful boutique games, especially those that keep acquisition costs down on the back of viral growth.”
Spears’ concern with alternative DFS forms? Liquidity.
“While large prize pools and liquidity aren’t as important for divergent games as they are for FanDuel and DraftKings, it should still be a focus,” Spears said. “Game types that allow for users to more easily enter a high volume of contests have a natural liquidity advantage. That’s a drawback of many of the divergent games I see now. If users can only get a few contests in per day that site is going to need a ton of users.”
From the perspective of some of these alternative sites, there seem to be some common denominators:
- They want to be very different from FanDuel, DraftKings, and other similar sites.
- They want to appeal to casual sports fans.
- They want the games to be intuitive and easy to play.
- They don’t necessarily see themselves as true competitors to traditional fantasy sites.
- They want to use social engagement as a way to drive their products.
The Daily MVP perspective
David Geller, CEO of Top Line Game Labs (DailyMVP’s parent company), is the former global head of fantasy sports at Yahoo. He talks passionately about the DailyMVP product, and what DFS outside of the salary-cap format can be.
“For us, a daily game for casual sports fans will not be a game that requires spreadsheets, a large monitor and a lot of time,” Geller said in a recent interview with Legal Sports Report. “So our approach is very much different from what FanDuel and DraftKings are doing — we wanted to sort of deconstruct the game format, and create something that was truly optimized for mobile, and for quick play, so a kind of ‘fantasy light.’
“You can have something exciting going on that day, but not something in which you are competing against daytraders that quit their jobs and are running sophisticated algorithms, and are entering the same contest as you a thousand times.”
At DailyMVP, the basic game format works like this. Depending on the contest you enter, you pick a set number of players from different teams. You can pick anyone you want; the goal is to pick the players that will outperform their projected fantasy score. If you pick the best lineup of players who outperform their expectation, you win. There’s still skill involved, it’s just far less time-consuming than a salary-cap game.
Geller also stresses that what a lot of daily fantasy sites don’t give players is the social experience that made its season-long forerunner so popular. That’s what sites like DailyMVP, SportsLock and others are trying to emulate, in some way.
“That’s the underpinning of what fantasy started out as, friends competing against each other,” Geller said. “We compress into a daily format, but we really want the fun and engagement to be there. For better or for worse, our focus is not so much on you’re going to retire by playing fantasy sports, and you’re going to buy a boat if you win this one big contest. When we surveyed users when I was running fantasy at Yahoo, 80 percent of those users were playing for something, but that something was never of true material value.
“That’s sort of where we’re taking our game. There’s still got to be an incentive...and if you’re playing for a cash prize that’s great, but it’s not something where you’re going to be able to buy a new house at the end of the day.”
DailyMVP, beyond its core offering, has branched out into some other areas. It leveraged its platform to create an interactive fan game for the NHL’s Washington Capitals — called CapTrick — in February. Whenever the Caps are playing, fans can use an app to pick fantasy players for a single period. If their players do well, they get a prize code delivered to their phone that they can use immediately — redeemable for things like a free hot dog or the grand prize of a $50 merchandise coupon.
“That’s been really interesting just because we have seen the fan engagement be very robust, retention very high, and seeing that it’s a great way to expose fans to our style of fantasy game,” Geller said.
Geller also noted another interesting promotion, with former NBA star Steve Nash. In it, fantasy players could play against Nash head-to-head, with proceeds going to his charitable foundation.
The SportsLock perspective
SportsLock apparently has a formula that some investors believe will work, after the much-publicized investment in the company — one of the largest single rounds of funding ever received by a DFS site.
Co-founder Todd Heyden talked about DFS in much the same way Geller does in an interview with Forbes. SportsLock endeavors to break the mold of what DFS is generally considered to be:
“This is a very different product in the fantasy space,” said Heyden, referring to SportsLock. ”I don’t love the definition of fantasy. It doesn’t have to be time consuming, complex. I want to change the way people think about fantasy. I think people who play March Madness brackets should be involved. Our industry is very archaic. Gaming has always been very archaic. We were able to see what FanDuel and DraftKings and all these other fantasy companies were doing that wasn’t entertaining for sports fans. I studied FanDuel and DraftKings to make sure we do nothing that they do.”
The site and its founders are not short on belief in their product. The following appears on the site’s “About” page.
We asked all the questions – What are the best aspects of fantasy sports? Why do people play? Can people stay connected to one experience or do they need to build their own games? What’s the most exciting time in sports? Why? Then we built all the answers in the form of a customizable fantasy sports experience where you draft players in bracket-based tournaments for real money against friends.
Contests at SportsLock are either one-on-one or bracket style, in which you play your way through single-elimination contests featuring four or eight fantasy players. You draft your teams — with no salary cap — in real time. You advance in a bracket — March-Madness style — by beating your opponent if your fantasy team scores more points than theirs. You then draft again — against a new opponent — based on new sporting events.
Like other alternative DFS sites, SportsLock emphasizes social engagement, and even includes a “text/iMessage service for external communications.”
The company launched the forerunner of its current iteration — called “Lock” — in 2013. The app resurfaced earlier this year as SportsLock, and it has obviously quickly attracted attention. The Forbes article also noted SportsLock is already working on securing another round of funding that will surpass eight figures.
“It’s exciting to see some divergent sites secure significant funding despite the lack of a success story,” Spears, alluding to deals like SportsLock’s. “As soon as someone figures it out, we may see the floodgates open.”