FanDuel and DraftKings are in a dynamic competition to see which becomes the #1 daily fantasy site. Other competitors exist, while still others are likely to be founded in the new year or two. For instance, building on years as a leader in the fantasy sports industry, Yahoo! announced this week it would create its own DFS service, Yahoo Daily Fantasy Sports.
In the United Kingdom, Mondogoal is a leader in the industry. Mondogoal has sponsorship deals with key English Premier League teams like Chelsea, Liverpool, and Manchester City. In La Liga, Mondogoal is partnered with reigning champion of the UEFA Champions League, FC Barcelona. In Serie A, the company has ties to AS Roma. Thus, Mondogoal has carved out a niche.
Even in the United States, Draft Ops and DailyMVP have been successful enough to fashion their own sponsorship deals with teams and gaming arenas. Meanwhile, sports-related brand names like Sports Illustrated and USA Today have founded their own one-day fantasy sports services. Also, consolidation of the industry has happened, so that battle for #3 in American DFS gambling is just as dynamic as the battle for #1.
Daily Fantasy Sports Sites
Keep reading to get an overview of the history of fantasy sports, along with the inception of DFS itself. For the moment, take a look at the quick mini-reviews of the most popular sites below.
FanDuel brought one-day fantasy sports gaming to the mainstream. Though other services existed before, none were successful. Nigel Eccles launched the site in 2009 with a loan from the Scottish government. Since then, FanDuel has become the leader in innovation in the DFS industry.
FanDuel focuses on 6 types of games: NFL Football, MLB Baseball, NBA Basketball, NHL Hockey, NCAA Football, and NCAA Basketball. Each has its own strategies and its own enthusiastic gaming community. All games are easily accessed in the player lobby. Entries range from as small as $1 all the way up to $50,000 and many ranges in-between.
DraftKings was founded in 2011 by three friends from Boston, led by Jason Robins. Over the past year or two, the contest for supremacy has intensified. That’s why you see all those danged commercials, as FanDuel and DraftKings are trying to become the #1 DFS provider.
DraftKings is the main rival to FanDuel. Though many people seem to think these are identical sites, DK offers a different product. Where FD focuses on a few core games, DK offers customers all the sports offered elsewhere, such as NFL-NBA-MLB, It also offers contests based around PGA Golf, English Premier League Football (Soccer), and UFC Mixed Martial Arts.
Yahoo Fantasy Sports Daily
You know an industry has become a pop culture force when billion-dollar companies and media giants start to embrace it. Yahoo, USA Today, NBC Sports, Comcast, PokerStars, and Sports Illustrated all have either launched their own sites or invested heavily in the industry. It was only a matter of time before Yahoo! got involved.
Yahoo Fantasy Sports Daily is still in its infancy. Yahoo has 5.6 million or so fantasy sports owners on their website, which has been running yearly games for at least 15 years. The site is still ramping up services. The games offered at present are NFL football, Major League Baseball, NBA basketball, and NHL hockey. Given the many forms of gaming the main Yahoo Fantasy Sports service offers, I would be surprised if this didn’t expand a great deal in the coming months. If not, it’s a bad sign for the whole program.
I’d offer up an affiliate link, but I don’t know that Yahoo! has such a program. With such a large player community and an Alexa rank of 5, I don’t know that their new business really needs affiliates (or thinks it does). I could be wrong.
This page is dedicated to the wider industry. When I review the various daily fantasy sports sites, I’ll link from here.
DFS Site Reviews
In time, I want to discuss all of the main sites. Victiv, Ballr, StarStreet, and FanThrowdown all will get their reviews, along with the more well-known brand names. Each service is similar, but each brings a little something different to the fans.
For the time being, I want to explain to all the newbies to DFS gambling a short history of daily fantasy sports gambling. Let me start with a quick timeline of fantasy sports, prior to the inception of FanDuel and DraftKings.
The History of Fantasy Football
Fantasy football was invented in the fall of 1962 by several people associated with the Oakland Raiders. Three men are considered instrumental in its formation: Wilfred Winkenbach, Bill Tunnel, and Scotty Stirling. Scotty Stirling was a reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Bill Tunnel was the Raidders PR man. Wilfred “Bill the Gill” Winkenbach was a limited partner in the Oakland Raiders, as well as an Oakland-area businessman.
While on an east coast road trip to play the New York Jets, the three men met in a New York City hotel room to create rules for a game-within-a-game. They decided rules could be written to convert real world production on a football field into points. Each individual player would accumulate his own points, allowing AFL players to be drafted onto make-believe teams under the direction of individual league members, called owners. The original league was named Greater Oakland Professional Pigskin Prognosticators League or the GOPPPL.
The GOPPP League
The first draft took place in Winkenback’s rumpus room back in Oakland in August 1963. The original league membership was 8 teams. These included pro football journalists, AFL administrative affiliates, or salesmen who sold Raiders’ season tickets. Scoring was touchdown-only. Rosters included 2 quarterbacks, 4 halfbacks, 2 fullbacks, 4 tight ends/wide receivers, 2 kickoff/punt returners, 2 field goal kickers, 2 defensive backs or linebackers, and 2 defensive linemen. Though the IDP format was there at the founding, defensive players had to score a TD to affect the outcome of the game, so scoring was rare for defenders.
The GOPPP continues to exist to this day. The 2015 season will be its 53rd in existence. Rosters include 2 quarterbacks, 2 halfbacks, 6 wide receivers/tight ends, 2 kickers, 2 defensive backs, 1 return team, and 1 bonus pick for any position. Scoring is still touchdown-only, in keeping with the league’s old age and traditions.
For the first few years, people associated with the Oakland Raiders played in the first fantasy football league. Most members of this group were Bay Area media members. Eventually, word spread around the United States about this new hobby. Media members moved about the country when they found new jobs, while AFL (and later NFL) personnel also tended to move around the country a great deal.
King’s-X Bar in Oakland
One key doorway for the proliferation of fantasy football was the Kings-X bar in Oakland, which was owned by Andy Mousalimas. Mousalimas was an original member of GOPPP, and by 1969 he had founded a couple of other leagues based out of his bar. At the time, people from San Francisco and other cities came to the bar for trivia gaming. Some of these people noticed the football-related game taking place in the fall. These people asked about the game, learned what was happening, and eventually spread the game beyond the Bay Area. Due to the complicated and time-consuming nature of scoring, fantasy football’s spread was slow.
While fantasy football was gaining in popularity, the idea spread to other sports. The first sports besides NFL football to be converted to fantasy sports was baseball, the national pasttime. Multiple sources say the New York Library’s archives on Jack Kerouac provide evidence the writer, who was born in 1922 and died in 1969, invented fantasy scoring for baseball for his own amusement early in life. Therefore, fantasy stats might have been invented as early as the late-1930s or 1940s. Also, a computer designer for IBM Akron, John Burgeson, is though to have created a form of fantasy baseball in 1961 for an IBM 1620 computer.
An Aside: Rotisserie Baseball
A version of fantasy baseball we would recognize got its start in the late-1970s, though. In 1978, Ivan R. Dee founded the Chicago Baseball League. Mr. Dee invented most aspects of the Rotisserie Baseball scoring system, though Daniel Okrent is generally given that distinction.
Daniel Okrent popularized fantasy baseball when he presented the idea to a group of friends who were mostly New York City writers and journalists. They met at the New York City restaurant, La Rotisserie Francaise, which is why their game came to be known as Rotisserie baseball. In the 30 for 30 documentary “Silly Little Game” on ESPN, Okrent and the members of the Rotisserie baseball were presented as the inventors of fantasy sports. Obviously, that documentary was wrong.
Fantasy Football Goes Mainstream
By the late-1980s, fantasy football was known in most parts of the United States, but it was still a fringe pasttime. Fantasy football and fantasy baseball magazines appeared on store shelves in small numbers, providing owners with rankings, features, and insider information to help with drafts. Still, league owners (usually the commissioner) had to read the box scores in the Sports Page on Monday after games, then add up scores. The same thing happened on Tuesday for Monday Night Football games. For this reason, scoring remained simplistic for several decades.
It would take the inception of the Internet to turn fantasy sports into a mainstream hobby. CBS launched the beta version of the first online fantasy football game in 1997. Soon enough, sites like CBS Sportsline, Yahoo! Sports, Fanball, and Sandbox Sports were hosting fantasy football leagues. A whole generation of enthusiastic fantasy owners were introduced to playing football versus corrupt supervisors and anonymous friends of theirs from 5 states away. (Also, owners also had the joys of playing random foreignors, such as when I played in a league against Mirpo Socono of Eritrea–and first learned there was a country named Eritrea.)
Online Fantasy Football
By the year 2000, online fantasy football had transformed the hobby. Internet websites like “My Fantasy League” sprang up to track wins-and-losses and, more importantly, track scoring. The automatic scoring tracker became a major reason fantasy football leagues proliferated online. It was easy to play, so more casual fans could enjoy the game. This made it easier to recruit friends, family members, neighbors, and coworkers. Some men even recruited their wives. Some wives were happy to take up the hobby, to avoid the fate of becoming a “football widow”. Within a few years, 20 million to 30 million Americans were playing fantasy football each year.
Other aspects of the Internet helped drive interest. News updates on sites like KFFL were invaluable, helping take a lot of the guesswork out of the torturous dilemma of the start/bench decisions each week.
Online fantasy sports forums and message boards also helped. Owners could give weather updates, discuss their visits to training camps, or provide grittier details about what the local sports media had been discussing prior to games. Blogs and podcasts allowed for FF enthusiasts to get even more details, updates, and news notes on the players they cared the most about. The Internet presented an avalanche of gaming information.
Online Fantasy Baseball
By this time, fantasy baseball had become a major force in the industry. Owners often had to be more hardcore than the football enthusiasts, because games were 7 days a week for 6-7 months of the year.
Other sports got in on the action. Fantasy basketball featuring NBA players was played much like MLB baseball, with weekly rankings at various statistical positions. Fantasy hockey followed the same format, along with most other sports. Just about any sport can have its stats broken down into scoring, though NASCAR and PGA Golf were the most common sports converted into a fantasy contest. NCAA football and basketball lent themselves to easy conversion, though gamblers preferred the pro leagues, perhaps because the players were professional. Contests with amateur athletes tend to involve more blowouts and fantastical statistics, so gamblers were more interested in NFL, NBA, NHL, and MLB.
Betting on Fantasy Sports
It should be mentioned that gambling was a big part of the fun. It’s one thing to prove you know more about your favorite sport than your friends and neighbors. It’s another to place a bet on the line involving your predictions and projections.
Most local leagues had league entry fees. These might be as little as $20 or $25, or they might range up into the hundreds of dollars. Most “high dollar” leagues to the average player involved $50 to $100 commitments. Some leagues had a winner-take-all mentality, while others offered prize money for the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd-place winners. Some leagues gouged owners, charging them for every free agent transasction. By the end of the year, some prize pools were huge.
The gambling aspect acted as fuel for controversies at times. Commissoner antics and late-season player trades were a perennial issue in some local leagues. Friendships were bent and sometimes broken by the proceedings. Still, gambling on fantasy sports was seen as lightweight in comparison to traditional sports betting, because those making the wagers tended to bet small amounts, which took months to resolve.
The lawmakers who wrote the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act or UIGEA saw fantasy sports in that light. When the US Congress passed the UIGEA in September 2006, a carve-out or exception was made for fantasy sports. The legislators decided fantasy football and its counterparts appealed to 30 million Americans, so there was no reason to offend all those people with an unpopular law. Yearly fantasy football seemed harmless, so an exception was made for it.
The problem was, the UIGEA made it illegal for services to make money transactions for activities seen as illegal under the 1961 Wire Act. Since the Republican administration of the time saw casino betting, poker, and sports betting as equally illegal under the Wire Act, most forms of online gambling was rendered illegal (or virtually illegal) under the UIGEA. But one form of gambling was still legal: fantasy sports.
Daily Fantasy Sports
It wasn’t long before entreprising people began to figure out ways to sate the hunger of those who wanted to gamble (legally) in the United States. Sites like “Fantasy Sports Live” were launched in 2007 and 2008 which allowed people to bet on fantasy contests, but on a one-day basis. Daily fantasy sports did much of what traditional sports betting does, but it provided that service legally. Some of the early providers were either a bit too early or they did not have the same vision as FanDuel and DraftKings, but the industry did not take off immediately.
In 2009, Nigel Eccles joined together with fellow co-founders Tom Griffiths, Rob Jones, Chris Stafford, and Lesley Eccles to launched FanDuel. With a handful of investors and some bankrolling from the government of Scotland, the service provided the first excellent way to play daily fantasy sports. To this day, FanDuel is a step or two ahead of its competition: maybe only a half-step ahead of DraftKings.
The new service provided gambling on NFL football, NBA basketball, NHL hockey, MLB baseball, NCAA football, and NCAA baseball. Players could enter head-to-head competitions, join leagues, or play in big guaranteed-money tournaments. Many of the features of the online poker industry was found at FanDuel, right down to the signup bonus. FanDuel grew from year-to-year, until 2012 and 2013, when the industry gained momentum.
Since then, FanDuel has found investors like NBC Sports and Comcast. It has entered into a serious competition with the guys at DraftKings, who got started later, but compete very well. Nigel Eccles remains the most powerful man in the daily fantasy sports industry.
Reign of the DraftKings
In 2011, Jason Robins, Matt Kalish, and Paul Liberman brainstormed how to get into the one-day fantasy sports industry. The three had noticed that the American public loved fantasy football, while it missed the ability to gamble legally online. Starting out operations in Paul Liberman’s apartment in Boston, the three men launched their own website in early-2012. By 2013, the company was signing a sponsorship deal with a Major League Baseball team.
These days, DraftKings is offering a service quite similar to the one offered by FanDuel. Small differences exist. DraftKings might offer a Millionaire Maker event, while FanDuel offers a smooth $500,000. DraftKings might offer golf, while FanDuel offers more ways to play football. At the end of the day, the services are quite equal. Like its rival, DraftKings has its share of investors and sponsorships. The Walt Disney Company is now a $250 million investor.
More DFS Suggestions
Daily fantasy sports is not a two-company industry. A whole slew of competing companies have been launched, either in the hopes of beating the top dogs or simply securing control of the #3 spot in the industry. DFS is a billion-dollar industry, and it’s only getting bigger. These days, mobile daily fantasy sports is becoming as big as the online version, which should bring millions more dedicated players into the community.
Therefore, you’ll find a whole list of solid services to use: Mondogoal, Victiv, DraftDay, StarStreet, Draft Ops, FanThrowdown, DailyMVP, and Ballr. Even Sports Illustrated, USA Today, and Yahoo Sports have gotten into the feeding frenzy.
The industry has come a long way since a group of Oakland Raiders associates got together in Wilfred Winkenbach’s rumpus room. The same basic concept is at the heart of every competition, though. Sports fans want to show they know more than a select group of equally-passionate fans, and they want to put a little money on the line to make things interesting. FanDuel, DraftKings, and all the other DFS sites simply make contests easier to enter and less of a social commitment than they ever have been before.