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For such a relative newcomer to daily fantasy sports, golf sure seems to have made up some ground on baseball, basketball and hockey.
DraftKings, of course, has offered $11 million in guarantees through four Millionaire Maker contests, including the $3.3 million contest later this month for the PGA Championship. The growth in DraftKings’ contests other than its four major Millionaire Makers has also been explosive.
The NFL is still king, of course. But the trajectory of the golf vertical has been so strong that one must ask if the popularity of DFS golf could actually surpass all but football. In fact, RotoCurve’s Michael Rathburn asked that very question in his own “DFS Minute” segment last month on whether the PGA Tour is already the No. 2 DFS sport.
Rathburn does not think that golf has quite reached that point yet, but he thinks it could happen as soon as next year. His speculative argument is convincing, including increased coverage of DFS golf on sites like ESPN and CBS Sports, increased involvement from golf enthusiasts and acceptance by the golf industry itself.
“I think there are a few things with PGA that need to happen,” Rathburn told Legal Sports Report. “FanDuel is one of them. I think the second thing is the increased coverage of golf by the networks. All holes need to be broadcast and premium packages offered via television and internet, et cetera.”
DraftKings has been the undisputed king of DFS golf so far, dominating the space in the absence of FanDuel.
Draftings has guaranteed more than $30 million this season in its contests for the PGA Tour’s regular events and the four major championships, according to Matt Kalish, one of DraftKings’ co-founders. That is dramatic growth for a sport that a year ago was at best an afterthought.
Still, PGA Tour games are the fourth-largest sport at DraftKings in terms of guarantees.
“We have increased our golf offerings significantly over the last year to match the rising demand, and that has meant larger guarantees with the Millionaire Maker contests,” Kalish told Legal Sports Report. “However, PGA is still behind the NFL, MLB and NBA over the last year in total guarantees.”
That does mean, of course, that it has passed hockey, at least at DraftKings.
Kalish did not dismiss the idea of golf’s rise to No. 2 out of hand. After all, DraftKings continues to see a high rate of new player adoption into PGA contests, which has been the primary driver in growth, Kalish said. And he added that he expects that growth to continue.
“All in all, it’s possible that PGA could become the second largest sport,” Kalish said. “We continue to see a growing rate of enthusiasm for our PGA contests and the user adoption of the sport continues to increase.”
Smaller sites have continued to create PGA Tour games, while FanDuel continues to avoid golf.
Whether FanDuel is No. 1 or No. 2 in DFS sports, a decision for the site to jump into golf would undoubtedly be a boost to the popularity of PGA Tour games. That has yet to happen, of course, but Rathburn said he thinks it’s only a matter of time, even though FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles said last year his site would stay out of the vertical.
“With the amount of money that’s out there in the market in PGA, you have to think that FanDuel is probably going to loosen their stance on the legality and jump in in 2016,” he said.
A deal with the PGA Tour with either DraftKings or FanDuel would likely help, too. That has yet to happen. And the Tour has so far been mum on the issue (despite Legal Sports Report’s attempts to reach the Tour).
The list of deals between the DFS market leaders and professional leagues only seems to grow, and a deal could bring DFS to the attention of more traditional golf fans. And that could be more fuel for golf’s growth.