ESPN is working to fully integrate fantasy sports into some of its NFL shows this fall, along with more emphasis on daily fantasy.
Fantasy and its impact on ESPN
ESPN revealed some of its plans at the Fantasy Sports Trade Association summer conference, held recently in New York City.
Some of the most interesting comments of the conference came from Seth Markman, who is a senior coordinating producer for ESPN’s production department, during a panel called “How Fantasy Sports Influence Today’s Game Broadcasts.”
Here is a transcript of several of Markman’s responses during the panel. Some of the comments are about fantasy in general, others focus on daily fantasy sports. Most of the discussion was concerning football broadcasts.
No difference between football fans and fantasy fans?
“I think we’ve come along way from the early days of fantasy, when I started doing this 10, 15 years ago, where we had a lot of discussions, let’s put our toe in the water on fantasy. We were really worried about the pregame shows; let’s not do much fantasy because we don’t want to lose the regular viewer or the football fan. Nowadays, we don’t really differentiate between the fantasy fan and the football fan.
“We actually kind of take the philosophy now that the fantasy player is our audience, and if there’s a viewer that’s not interested in fantasy, we don’t believe we’re going to lose them by talking about fantasy content during our shows. This year, more than ever, we just decided it’s going to be fully integrated in all our NFL shows. It has to be, it’s too popular now to just segment it out. So that’s our goal right now, to integrate as much as possible.”
You can’t ignore DFS
“I had heard about it (daily fantasy sports) and obviously had seen some of the commercials but didn’t know too much about it. About halfway through last season, we all (at ESPN) starting getting involved. … We have our own dedicated fantasy football pregame show on Sundays on ESPN2, so we decided, right toward the tail end, that we would start giving daily tips here and there.
“This year, I think we’re going to jump in even a little more as we talk about that show format and some of our other Sunday morning content and even later-in-the-week content. You can’t ignore it, obviously, it’s becoming big, we know that, and to do any kind of comprehensive fantasy show at this point and not spend a good amount of time on the daily game would be a mistake. So I think we now have to strike a balance between the yearlong games and the tips that we want to give for those versus just the flat-out daily and balance the shows.”
The hottest category
“From an ESPN perspective, I sit in a sales meeting every Thursday, and there’s no bigger category right now from our sales department than fantasy sponsorships. Again we’re lucky we have two hours of NFL shows every day and plenty of shows on Sundays, more on Monday. Every week now the questions I am getting — and I am not talking about sponsorships from DraftKings and FanDuel, although those exist — I am talking about national sponsors of products that they want to own fantasy content on ESPN. We’re running out of ideas at this point of different fantasy segments to do, because sponsors want so many of them right now.”
Do people want to watch Matthew Berry more than other experts?
“I think I said this earlier, 10 or 15 years ago, let’s do a little bit of “start’em, sit’em.” I’m not afraid to admit, we screwed it up to be honest with you, we were afraid for no reason in a lot of ways of alienating different audiences. … The evolution has been incredible from our standpoint, in the sense we went from that to more overt mentions of fantasy segments, to what I believe, I think we’re going to be as fully integrated this year as possible.
“Matthew (Berry) is going to be a much bigger part of our Sunday morning lineup on ESPN, you are going to see him on Sunday Countdown more than just a segment of fantasy football, which we have done over the past few years. We want to make him part of the discussion with the ex-players and coaches because that’s the way we believe our audience now consumes pre-game content.
“I am actually starting to wonder sometimes, do people want to hear more about Matthew’s opinion on the games coming up or do they want to hear more from Tom Jackson or Cris Carter? I don’t know. It’s now becoming at least a question in my mind, which is a long way from where we were 10 years ago.”
What does all of that mean for DraftKings?
Not discussed was how DraftKings figured into the equation. The deal between ESPN and DraftKings — in which DraftKings became the “official daily fantasy sports offering” of the Worldwide Leader in Sports — was announced the day after the FSTA conference.
The deal, at a minimum, keeps FanDuel and other competitors out of ESPN’s platforms, as the deal has been termed as “exclusive.”
In a story at Re/Code, DraftKings CEO Jason Robins referred to the deal as creating “deep integration” between his company’s DFS offering and ESPN. The ESPN press release on the arrangement was vague on implmentation:
This exclusive relationship will include branding and promotional opportunities across multiple ESPN and DraftKings’ platforms including integration into digital properties and television programming.
For 2015, it’s not clear if we’ll see DraftKings-specific DFS tips and content, or if it will be more general tips that can be applied at FanDuel, DraftKings, or any other platform. Once the calendar turns over to 2016 — when the partnership kicks in — it seems obvious that all tips will be geared toward setting a lineup at DraftKings. Variations in salary cap values, roster setting and scoring occur from site to site, meaning DraftKings-specific advice on ESPN will likely help drive traffic and interest in the site.
Online at ESPN.com, there are already daily fantasy notebooks and a live webcast dedicated to DFS during baseball season, so one can expect to see even more of that this fall, and DraftKings-tilted content and shows next year.
What we can be sure of? If you don’t pay attention to the commercials and online ads for DraftKings, references to the DFS site are probably going to be hard to miss on ESPN’s platforms starting in 2016.