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The NFL And Its Complicated Relationship With DFS: League Says It’s Not Gambling, But Treats It Like It Is

Comments from an NFL spokesman continued to define the league’s relationship with daily fantasy sports, revealing that the NFL might view DFS more akin to gambling than might have been thought previously.

What we learned: Casinos, DFS handled similarly

Whenever the NFL speaks on the subject of fantasy sports, it’s important for the industry. The biggest elephant in the room for the DFS industry — outside of potential legal issues — is the NFL. What the league decides to do on the DFS front could dramatically change the landscape. For instance, if the league decided to partner exclusively with FanDuel or DraftKings, or any other site for that matter, that would be a gamechanger.

Here are the latest nuggets of information we have from the NFL and how it views DFS:

First, a story from Trib Total Media somewhat defined the scope of deals that NFL teams have with DFS sites:

The NFL, for now, will continue to monitor the daily fantasy marketplace, league spokesman Brian McCarthy told Trib Total Media.

“We do permit the clubs to accept advertising within their controlled media properties, including TV, radio, digital, print and stadium signage, provided no club or league marks are included in such advertisements,” he said.

On its own, that’s not much of a bombshell. But a second story from the Trib, also quoting McCarthy, shows that DFS and things that are actually considered gambling are treated in similar terms:

The NFL, however, has no problem taking advertising money from casinos.

“Teams are permitted to accept advertising from casinos under certain restrictions,” McCarthy said. “No advertising of sports book; no use of club marks or logos.”

But later:

Added McCarthy: “Fantasy football is considered a game of skill and has never been considered gambling by legislators in Washington.”

On one hand, the NFL says fantasy sports aren’t “considered gambling.” At the same time, the league is keeping DFS at arm’s length, allowing advertising deals to be done, but nothing else, so far. Is the similar treatment of casinos and DFS related? If we’re to read between the lines, we would guess so.

What we knew before

What commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL actually think about the future of DFS — and the league’s potential involvement — is largely a matter of speculation, unless you work for a DFS site and have direct conversations with the league. But here’s the backstory we have pieced together:

A closer look at the team deals

More than two-thirds of the NFL teams have deals with either FanDuel or DraftKings, with the former having deals in place with 16 of the 32 franchises.

Neither FD and DK is considered an “official team sponsor,” as made pointedly clear by McCarthy in a story at USA Today. He characterizes the deals only as advertising. Precious little is known about most of these deals, although we assume most are of the same nature — in-stadium exposure, along with advertising on media platforms associated with the team. Here’s the press release from the Buffalo Bills on their FanDuel relationship, for example.

Earlier, the league said deals with fantasy sites would only be signed for one year. When the FanDuel deals were announced, they were termed as “multi-year agreements,” although it’s still possible the deals have opt-out clauses after a year.

Goodell and fantasy

Goodell is a fan of fantasy, in general, as it drives interest in his product. But he’s also on the record saying teams’ involvement with fantasy sites is “preferably limited,” and that the league is taking a “cautious approach” to DFS.

Read his comments from April.

At the same time, Goodell and the league’s stance on fantasy is nuanced, vis a vis its stance on casinos and gambling. Some NFL players have been told not to play in poker tournaments, and the league told Dallas quarterback Tony Romo and other active players not to take part in the National Fantasy Football Convention in Las Vegas. That apparently had more to do to its connection to casinos, however, as the NFFC is going to happen next year — with Romo — in Los Angeles.

Moving forward

What does it all mean? The NFL and its relationship with DFS will likely continue to remain murky, at least for the foreseeable future.

We do know the coming football season is the most important in the short history of the DFS industry. Consider:

  • DraftKings has made up serious ground on FanDuel this year, and has made a case for being No. 1. Will that momentum carry over into the fantasy football season?
  • Several sites in the tier behind DK and FD have plans to carve out more marketshare this fall.
  • Yahoo and Amaya (PokerStars) are both planning to enter the DFS industry in time for the NFL season. And there are rumblings of another major player getting involved as soon as this year, as well.

In the meantime, the industry is left looking for hints as to what the NFL is thinking, and what it wants to do next.

Photo by hyku used under license CC BY 2.0.

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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.