NFL Calls DraftKings, FanDuel Team Deals "Traditional Advertising," Not Sponsorships
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NFL Spokesman: Daily Fantasy Sports Is ‘Game Of Skill,’ But Downplays League’s Relationship

NFL and DFS
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An NFL spokesman reiterated that the league believes daily fantasy sports is a game of skill, while going to great lengths to say the league is keeping sites like DraftKings and FanDuel at arm’s length.

At the same time, however, the NFL is becoming increasingly involved in the business of daily fantasy football.

The latest word from the NFL on DFS

In reality, NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said very little that was new. He has, on at least one occasion, already stated the NFL believes that DFS is game of skill and not gambling.

This time around, however, there’s a real question of whether the NFL is painting an accurate picture in describing its relationship with DFS. Here is what McCarthy said, according to a story at Philly.com:

“There is no change in our long-standing position against the proliferation of gambling on our games,” NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy wrote Monday in an email. “Daily fantasy is considered a game of skill. There’s no league sponsorship agreement or investment in those companies. Clubs may accept traditional 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. The daily fantasy marketplace is in its infancy and we continue to follow developments.”

This isn’t the first time McCarthy has tried to support DFS and at the same time say the league isn’t really that involved with it. But the NFL’s parsing of “sponsorship” vs. “advertising” continues to strain against the reality of what is really happening with the league today.

So, DFS sites are just advertising, not sponsoring?

McCarthy says neither FanDuel nor DraftKings has a “sponsorship agreement”; the league itself, via NFL.com, is taking money from both, however. Ads from both DFS sites appear throughout the “Fantasy” section at the league website.

That’s not to imply that there’s anything wrong with the NFL taking advertising money from DFS sites, although some proponents of legalized sports betting — like Rep. Frank Pallone — believe it’s a point of hypocrisy by professional sports leagues.

Taking some ads at a website certainly doesn’t amount to a “sponsorship.” At the same time, the “Daily Fantasy Mailbag” at NFL.com is “presented by FanDuel”:

FanDuel NFL.com

That kind of branding and the phrase “presented by” is generally reserved for sponsors, not common advertisers.

Are we suggesting FanDuel is sponsoring the entire NFL? Certainly not. This is just a very small section in a very large website.

At the same time, however, what the NFL is doing with FanDuel certainly appears to go beyond simple “advertising”; this is more than just a standard ad on the side of a website. The league is more or less telling people to go play at FanDuel in its own content.

NFL teams and DFS sites?

Rational people can certainly disagree with the assessment above, and argue that FanDuel is just an “advertiser.” Where the NFL’s parsing of its DFS relationships really comes into question is at the team level.

After DraftKings inked deals with 12 of the NFL’s teams earlier this month, that means that 28 of the 32 franchises are aligned with one of the two major DFS sites. McCarthy says teams can “accept traditional advertising” from the likes of FanDuel and DraftKings.

That invokes the idea that the DFS sites are basically getting some signs in stadiums and some ads on the team websites. In reality, what the DFS duopoly is doing with NFL teams goes far beyond “traditional advertising.”

DraftKings, in a press release for announcement of the 12 team deals, called them “wide-ranging sponsorships.” FanDuel’s deal with the Washington Redskins was termed a “strategic alliance,” and an agreement with the Buffalo Bills was called a “partnership.”

A recent story about DFS sites’ deals with Cleveland teams gave us a picture of how much is involved in a team partnership in the NFL and beyond. Browns president Alec Scheiner talked about FanDuel in the same breath as Ford and Pepsi.

At last count, there are six fantasy lounges that have been installed in NFL stadiums, three sponsored by each site. The deal for the DraftKings lounge at the New England Patriots’ stadium involved the team’s vice president of corporate sponsorship sales, who was quoted in a press release.

Sponsor vs. advertiser, who cares?

Maybe you don’t care whether FanDuel and DraftKings is an “advertiser” or a “sponsor” of the NFL. The NFL does care about the designation, however; here is how McCarthy justifies FanDuel and DraftKings not being classified as sponsors, in a story at USA Today.

“A team sponsor is a company that can use the team logo or say, ‘We are the official (company) of the team,'” McCarthy said in an e-mail to USA TODAY Sports. “That is not the case here. These companies are not team sponsors. Officially or unofficially. They do not have any designations. Teams have advertising arrangements from a variety of companies, but that doesn’t make every one of them a team sponsor.”

So, in the world of NFL semantics, yes, DFS sites aren’t team sponsors. But does that come even close to representing reality? When teams start putting fantasy lounges in their stadiums with “DraftKings” or “FanDuel” emblazoned on them, it’s hard for anyone to look at them as anything but the team’s “unofficial” daily fantasy sports site.

It’s clear McCarthy and the league are going out of their way in public statements to downplay how involved the NFL is with daily fantasy sports; he is certainly not shouting from the rooftops that 28 of the league’s teams have partnerships with DFS sites. It’s not at all shocking that the NFL continues to say DFS is a skill game, as the alternative — saying it’s sports betting — is clearly not something the NFL will do right now.

All of this points to the notion — at least at the top levels of the league — that the NFL remains publicly lukewarm on DFS, unlike its counterparts the NHL, the NBA, and Major League Baseball. All of those leagues have partnered with either FanDuel or DraftKings and hold equity stakes in them.

Why is that? That’s a question that has avoided a concrete answer for most of 2015. Is the NFL worried about what’s coming down the pike — like a possible Congressional hearing — and maintaining its distance as best it can while still being involved with DFS sites? Or is the league just being slow and measured — like it is on a lot of fronts — with its commitment to and handling of DFS?

The why remains unknown. What is known is that DFS sites are very involved with the NFL, whether the league is prepared to admit it or not.

dean bertoncelj / Shutterstock.com

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.
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