The National Football League is making DraftKings its first “official daily fantasy partner,” moving the Boston-based company a step closer to one of the most coveted brands in the fantasy sports industry.
The NFL, being both the largest professional sports league in the country and the sport that's most popular among daily fantasy players, is “the crown jewel,” said Paul Charchian, president of the Fantasy Sports & Gaming Association.
“This could be potentially very, very big for DraftKings,” he said, particularly if the deal goes beyond advertising. For example, he said, “If you can go to NFL.com and play daily fantasy sports, and you’re playing DraftKings … that would be a massive, massive advantage.”
He added: “It would potentially mean access to millions and millions of new players.”
DraftKings is one of the top players in the fantasy sports industry, along with its main rival, FanDuel. If you've never played daily fantasy, imagine regular fantasy sports in hyper-drive. In traditional fantasy sports, participants pick a roster of athletes, and the winner is determined based on how those players perform over the course of a season. In daily fantasy, that process is condensed into a day or a weekend.
“It's all about winning instant money; it's all about instant gratification,” said Albert Chen, a senior editor at Sports Illustrated and author of "Billion Dollar Fantasy: The High-Stakes Game Between FanDuel and DraftKings That Upended Sports in America."
While the DraftKings partnership with the NFL is a significant step forward for the daily fantasy industry, it was sort of inevitable, Chen said, especially after a 2018 Supreme Court decision opened the doors to states legalizing sports betting. In cozying up to the NFL, Chen said, DraftKings is hoping to be the league's go-to when it eventually looks for an online sports betting partner.
“This is all about a race to take every bet in America and win a sports gambling market that's just going to get bigger and bigger,” Chen said.
While other major professional leagues — including the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association — have made similar deals with DraftKings or FanDuel, the NFL has been cautious about associating the organization with activities that smell to some like gambling.
Nevertheless, the league has made moves in that direction. Earlier this year, the NFL announced a partnership with Caesars Entertainment, its first official sponsorship by a casino brand, according to a press release at the time.
Although the NFL has moved slowly to embrace wagering of any kind, Chen predicts that it will eventually become the norm.
Given the challenges the league has faced in recent years with declining viewership and attendance, Chen said that “gambling and fantasy sports is going to be critical, not only to the profitability of their product, but perhaps even the survival of it.”