Top motorsport makes its foray into fantasy sports with equity stake in PlayON
Legal Sports Report

Formula One Signs Fantasy Sports Deal With PlayON, Which Eyes US Debut

Formula One fantasy

It’s probably time for daily fantasy sports fans to get familiar with PlayON.

Those reading from Europe or Australia may already be familiar, in fact. The site launched in 2012, and it serves those markets with a robust platform and a full suite of games. It offers contests in nine sports right now, but that number is about to hit double digits.

PlayON is now the official DFS partner for Formula 1, the richest and most-popular motorsport in the world.

The two parties issued a joint press release this morning to announce the union. It’s a multi-faceted deal, including an equity position for F1 and a digital rights deal covering contests and broadcasts. DFS players will soon be able to live stream Grand Prix races within the platform.

In addition to the new partnership, PlayON announced surprise plans to enter the US market in 2018.

PlayON aligns with F1

The PlayON/F1 agreement figures to have tangible benefits for both companies. As the press release highlights, they each have something the other wants:

The partnership allows Formula 1 to make a significant investment in fantasy sports and reach an even wider and younger audience, and provides PlayON with access to the millions of Formula 1 fans around the world.

As part of the deal, F1 also secures a partial ownership position in PlayON. The percentage is confidential, but the company happily divulged that it negotiated a £30 million valuation. It marks the first time F1 has taken an equity stake in an external company, according to the release.

The broadcast portion is perhaps the most intriguing, though. PlayON will stream F1 races within its platform, allowing customers to both watch and compete at the same time.

This concept is all the rage in DFS these days; DraftKings has similar partnerships in place with both the AFL and EuroLeague basketball. It creates a snazzy product which mirrors the in-game sports betting platforms in regulated markets — just without the betting.

DFS is now a part of F1’s “new digital strategy,” which includes its own over-the-top broadcast client. PlayON CEO Killian Jones said this combination of live and fantasy sports provides “a fully immersive entertainment experience” for customers.

To clean up the details, the partnership lastly includes an official, “traditional” F1 fantasy game powered by PlayON.

PlayON to enter US in 2018

Almost as a footnote to this announcement, PlayON announced plans to enter the US market, and to do so quickly.

In light of the regulatory environment around daily fantasy sports now being clearly established in multiple US states, PlayON today announces it will enter the US market in 2018 and will establish a US office to fuel our expansion efforts in North America.

Indeed, most states have hammered out the legality of DFS by this point, although there are still a few gray stragglers remaining.

Operating only where DFS is clearly legal is one of the foundations of PlayON’s business. It’s also something that’s pretty important to its sports partners. The European Tour cited the principle during that partnership, and Formula 1 did the same today.

This is from Frank Arthofer, the director of digital and new business for F1:

We believe in PlayON, its product, leadership, and its strict approach to regulation, only operating real-money games in territories that have a clearly established regulatory framework in place: this enables F1 to enter the daily fantasy market without concern over legality.

This cautious approach will carry over to the US, too. That “clearly established regulatory framework” is present in fewer than 20 states, significantly fewer than DraftKings and FanDuel serve (around 40 apiece).

Regardless, Jones told Legal Sports Report that PlayON is already “beginning the process of entering the US market,” and that it was “optimistic of [its] growth prospects in the US over the coming years.”

Unlike some of its current and future competition, this doesn’t appear to be a move for a US sports betting position. Jones declined to comment on that, but the context surrounding the league partnerships suggests a disinterest for the time being.

More about PlayON

PlayON is based out of offices in the UK and Ireland, two of the three countries in which it carries a license. It also operates in Australia. In addition to its paid-entry contests in those markets, it serves its free contests to players in more than 100 countries.

Although PlayON is probably unfamiliar to DFS players in the US for now, it has a significant presence abroad. And it’s starting to pick up some clout from professional sports organizations. This partnership with F1 is its third major signing in recent years.

In 2016, PlayON first partnered with the European Tour. It was only offering four sports at the time, and the agreement coincided with a spike in popularity for daily fantasy golf. Jones indicated more partnerships were in the works, too. Less than a year later, the NBA signed a deal that made PlayON the league’s official fantasy provider in many markets, including much of Europe. (The European Tour partnership is no longer active.)

Neither approached the level of this F1 deal, though, which is both broad in scope and modern in implementation.

Look for Formula 1 DFS contests in the US soon, it appears. And look for a new operator to take a shot at competing in the market.

Eric Ramsey
- Eric is a reporter and writer covering poker, sports betting, and DFS. He comes from a poker background, formerly on staff at PokerNews and the World Poker Tour.