This time last year, Jordan Spieth was merely an emerging young talent, Jason Day was considered among the best players to have never won a major championship and daily fantasy golf was hardly noticed by anyone.
What a difference a year makes.
A quick look back at 2015 and growth for DFS golf
Golf was infused with fresh talent as Spieth established himself as the world’s top golfer, and while Day was finishing off his first major championship last week, nearly 190,000 entries were battling for a share of $3.3 million in what was DraftKings’ fourth and final Millionaire Maker contest of the 2015 PGA Tour season.
The growth in DFS golf this season has been well chronicled, and DraftKings has become the unrivaled king of the vertical so far with consistent growth across the year’s four major championships.
In truth, the year may have been a perfect storm of sorts for daily fantasy golf, said David Copeland, a Scottish entrepreneur who runs the site DailyFantasyLobby.
“This was a particularly interesting year for golf as a sport — Spieth winning twice, the Jason Day story of literally coming back from collapse to win the PGA Championship. The Open at St. Andrews in terrible weather. The Tiger saga. The winning scores were pretty close to record lows, too, so birdie-fest equals excitement,” Copeland said. “I don’t remember such as exciting year for golf as this one.”
Such a perfect storm leaves some questions.
“Has the sport itself lifted DFS golf rather than vice versa?” Copeland asked. “What would have happened had it been a year with high scoring majors and journeyman winners?”
It was easy to see the growth, just by looking at the largest contests of the year at DraftKings. For the Masters in April, the big guaranteed prize pool was $2.2 million. By August, DraftKings said that its $3.3 million headliner contest and its other PGA Championship-related games continued on an upward trajectory.
“All of the majors were very strong, but (the PGA Championship) was the most successful major for us this year across all of the key ways we evaluate success,” Matt Kalish, DraftKings CRO and co-founder, told Legal Sports Report.
What’s next in fantasy golf?
Such growth could certainly portend to and even bigger major championship season in 2016. That is certainly DraftKings’ take.
“We had an early fill (for the PGA Championship) and we are happy about that, but there is still much more growth potential based on the trends we are seeing,” Kalish said. “We are constantly seeing new players showing up for each major, so the potential continues to increase as a result.”
There are more than 200 days until the next major, the 2016 Masters, tees off. But it seems like a strong bet that the Millionaire Maker for the event will surpass the $3.3 million guarantee offered at the PGA Championship.
Could a Millionaire Maker contest reach a $5 million guarantee by next year’s PGA Championship? It seems almost inevitable as DraftKings continues to heavily promote its golf products.
Kalish already has said that its golf vertical is a solid No. 4, and could potentially surpass MLB and NBA to become daily fantasy sports No. 2.
With the FedEx Playoffs up next, the golf season is not yet over. But there is no doubt that DraftKings already has the next major already in mind.
“We will continue to offer strong PGA weekly contests and experiences to serve our players. As long as golf is in season, we will deliver great experiences to our community,” Kalish said. “But no question about it, we have the Masters in 2016 already circled on our calendar.”
Meanwhile, what other DFS sites are doing in golf
Earlier this year, Earl Mitchell, chief information officer at Victiv, told Legal Sports Report that golf had surpassed Victiv’s expectations.
There is also the chance that we will see European PGA Tour golf, as Amaya/PokerStars holds gaming licenses in European jurisdictions. DraftKings also just received its UK gaming license.
Will we see more sites jump in next year, attracted to the potential of golf? That is what spurred FantasyAces into joining the fray in time for the U.S. Open in June.
“It was a combination between the growth with PGA that we were seeing across the industry, the amount of requests that we had for it, and a unified belief that the entertainment value that it brought was among the best fantasy sports out there,” said Jeff Collins, product director at FantasyAces, adding that the site’s cash games were “quite a bit higher” than expected.
And expect sites to get more imaginative to help keep DFS golf fans engaged.
“We’re not ready to announce anything for next year yet, but with the golf product being my ‘baby,’ you can count on me pushing for very exciting things moving forward,” Collins said.
Of course, FanDuel has yet to create a golf game. Neither has Yahoo, meaning many of the top players in DFS have yet to embrace golf.
But that seems a fair bet to change by the time the Masters tees off.
“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,” said RotoCurve’s Michael Rathburn, who believes that golf will one day surpass baseball and basketball as DFS’ No. 2.
What could slow the momentum?
Questions do still persist about the legality of daily fantasy golf. And by the opinion of some experts, there is a chance that golf does indeed fall on the wrong side of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act.
A serious legal challenge could unravel the entire vertical, and has been cited by FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles as a primary reason why DraftKings’ primary rivals has yet to create a PGA Tour game.
A significant legal challenge has yet to come, though.
A deal with the PGA Tour?
Perhaps a better bet in the short term is that one of the top sites strikes a deal with the PGA Tour, which has so far has declined Legal Sports Report’s efforts for comment.
The Tour might be mum, but it appears golf’s mainstream is accepting of DFS golf, with traditional media such as Golf Digest paying more attention.
That is welcome, Kalish said. But DraftKings’ appetite appears to be even stronger. In fact, Kalish said it wants to help grow golf, too. That could signal a desire to make a deal with the Tour.
“We will continue to work that angle (of reaching traditional golf fans), but specifically targeting traditional golf fans exclusively is too limiting and is not really our strategy,” Kalish said. “We are focused on growing the market and building new fans of golf.”
In the end, it appears there is still plenty to pay attention to in daily fantasy golf before the next major begins.