DraftKings spent much of the 2017 NFL season experimenting with its contest format and selection.
The first Pick’em contests were rolled out early in the year, and slates were continually tweaked and shortened across the site. Both were efforts to either please or bankrupt customers, depending on which side of the argument you listened to.
There’s more change in store for the playoffs.
This weekend, DraftKings is launching a new short-form game type called NFL Showdown. It will be the site’s first contest based on a single football game.
DraftKings NFL Showdown
DraftKings’ Showdown contests are salary cap-based contests that require six-player rosters — four offensive players and two defensive players. Yes, defensive players!
For the first time, users will be able to roster individual defenders and accrue fantasy points based on their performance. Just like offensive players, defenders can score points in 15 different categories. Scores range from 0.5 points for an assist to 10 points for a safety or a blocked kick.
Rosters must include at least one offensive player from each team, but there are no positional requirements. Users can roster both quarterbacks from the same game, for example. Or four wide receivers.
DraftKings VP of Games, Mark Nerenberg, provided his Showdown pitch to Legal Sports Report:
It’s a more unique, exciting experience with more scoring events all jam packed into the one game you’re actually watching. That goes well with the postseason, because there’s just one game at a time that everyone’s watching. And it’s usually a pretty exciting game.
The format will debut this Sunday for the New Orleans Saints vs. Carolina Panthers playoff game. The week’s big contest is an $8 entry with $200,000 guaranteed (corrected).
Showdown contests are available to users in all 41 states served by DraftKings.
For team sports, the daily fantasy sports industry has pretty much stayed away from contests based on one game. That’s both because of logistics and possibly because of legal ramifications.
The laws governing DFS contests in states are specific in what they do and do not allow. The format seems to comply with just about every law that’s been passed so far (in 18 states). Contests must not be based on the performance of a single team or athlete, but state laws generally say nothing about the number of games that can be involved in a contest. One game seems to suffice.
That language at the state level largely mirrors that in the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, the federal law which deals with payment processing in iGaming. That Act does have something to say about the game composition for fantasy contests, though:
(II) All winning outcomes reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants and are determined predominantly by accumulated statistical results of the performance of individuals (athletes in the case of sports events) in multiple real-world sporting or other events.
“Multiple real-world” events sticks out as being problematic for this sort of format. It’s part the reason that operators took diverging stances on NASCAR and golf contests. They’re based on single events, but the argument is that the events themselves can be parsed into smaller events (rounds in golf, or laps in auto racing). Notably, no action has ever come at the federal level on this issue.
DraftKings is running contests for those sports, however. And it’s not the first to offer single-game contests, either. The now-defunct Rivalry Games operated solely on the single-game model — doing a contest for the Super Bowl — and it claimed to be in full compliance with the UIGEA.
According to Nerenberg, DraftKings would have launched single-game contests earlier if it had seen a market for them. He said he believes all of the contests are in full compliance with state and federal laws. DraftKings indicated that regulators in New York gave the contest format the green light.
Do customers want the new DraftKings contest?
Despite the complaints of a loud minority, DraftKings continues to insist that its customers crave the new formats that it’s offering. The company spent the first part of the year upgrading its platform so that it could offer contests in multiple formats at the same time.
Weekend golf contests were the first to make use of the new multi-format platform, followed by things like MLB Arcade and NFL Pick’em. DraftKings also offered World Series contests this season, but even those were two-game slates.
Nerenberg said more formats (like match-play golf) might be on the horizon, too. He said that he and his team have a few simple goals in mind when they develop a new product:
“If we’re going to run them overlapping each other, we really want them to be differentiated from each other. We want it to be something new,” he said. “The sustainable, great games are going to be easy enough to compete, but difficult enough to provide a real challenge. We think that’s what we’ve created here.”
If DraftKings is going to start running single-game contests, it’s logical to anticipate a big Super Bowl contest next month, too.