Fantasy sports are part of American sports culture; it’s an undeniable fact. Companies like ESPN, Yahoo! and NFL.com host fantasy leagues for millions of fans around the world. The fantasy craze helped create a multi-billion dollar industry as well as spur demand for thousands of new jobs. Fox Sports, CBS, NBC and NFL Network litter your flat screen with player stats during football games while your chosen fantasy app pings you with news of touchdowns, fumbles and more. Fantasy sports are offered up in near parallel to real sports—football, baseball, golf, hockey, basketball, auto racing and soccer all have fantasy equivalents. But is managing a friendly fantasy baseball team or winning a C-Note in your football league enough of a thrill? Or do you crave more? Because the next hot thing in fantasy sports might just pique your interest.
Hoist the trophy at the end of a long, grueling fantasy season and you’ve earned bragging rights and, sometimes, a nice payout. But it’s a grind, taking months to finally crown a champion. Consider the alternative, one that comes complete with instant gratification. Daily and weekly fantasy sports websites are trending—every matchup is a championship game waged against friends or strangers for real money. It doesn’t get much more exciting than that and, unlike professional and college sports betting, it’s completely legal. So how does it work?
Companies like FanDuel and DraftKings have made it simple. Create an account, provide payment info and deposit some money, even just $10. You’ll draft a team for a single game, any week of the football season or any day of a baseball, basketball or hockey season. Peyton Manning or Tom Brady? Bryce Harper or Mike Trout? You make that tough decision each game rather than once per season on draft day. That’s much of the beauty, no lengthy commitment. Play a game today, take a break and then play another one in a few weeks or play a dozen games every day. A combination of the entry fee and number of teams translates into a prize value. Browse the virtual lobby to scope out hundreds of options. Risk more, win more: wage $1 for a $90 prize against 99 other teams or bet $25 against 99 competitors to win over $2,000. Just score more points than your rivals and you win the prize. Fantasy sports fanatics will appreciate the excitement of daily leagues and the transactional simplicity. So where should you begin?
The undisputed leader in one-day fantasy sports is FanDuel. The New York-based company, founded in 2009, was a concept born at Austin, Texas’ SXSW conference. The company is widely considered a pioneer in the daily fantasy sports format. The numbers are staggering—$560 million paid out, 30K daily leagues available, $20 million in weekly contest payouts, $88 million in funding. Fans are using FanDuel and investors believe in its potential. The website has received multiple awards from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association while its founders, Nigel Eccles and Tom Griffiths, are considered among the tech world elite. The offerings are complete enough—NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA as well as college football and basketball—but don’t quite match their chief rival. And make no mistake, FanDuel’s major competitor is vying for more than second place.
If the name DraftKings sounds familiar it’s because their advertisements are all over the radio, internet and television. Jason Robins, Paul Liberman, Matt Kalish founded the Boston-based company in 2011 and business is booming. DraftKings caters to a wide swath of fantasy players. Beginner leagues as well as more challenging head-to-head and 50/50 leagues plaster the lobby. They also have a competitive advantage offering contests in PGA, MMA, NASCAR and soccer along with the aforementioned sports that FanDuel supports. With $350 million in funding, DraftKings has the capital to compete with FanDuel and the talent to move the industry forward in a big way. And the folks in the C-Suite are aggressive, acquiring 3 competitors—StarStreet, Draft and Draftstreet—in 2014. It’s a business worth watching and a website worthy of your clicks.
One-day fantasy sports aren’t ubiquitous. Yet. But word is spreading. The barrier to entry is minimal—a few bucks gets you started—and the competition is fierce. Companies like DraftKings and FanDuel found another way to scratch our fantasy itch. And it feels so good.