There’s one good thing so far about the upcoming NFL season — we’re not being constantly bombarded by those annoying commercials for DraftKings and FanDuel, those fantasy sports sites that presented themselves as the roads to big money.
Last year, you just couldn’t avoid those stupid commercials, where scruffy looking guys got big checks and talked about how they got huge paydays after investing only a few bucks. For a time, the two principal fantasy sports sites spent more on advertising during sporting events than the beer companies — which is the highest possible standard you can reach when you are talking about advertising designed to reach the American male. We saw those DraftKings and FanDuel commercials in our nightmares.
Now, though, you don’t see or hear much about FanDuel and DraftKings. ESPN’s Outside the Lines has a good article about why that is so. It’s long, but it tells an fascinating story about how the sites came to be, their rapid rise to prominence and their aggressive marketing, their competition with each other, their legal troubles — and mostly how they came to be a way for professional players to sweep up the investments of small-time recreational players you were lured by the “get-rich-quick” commercials. The casual players who thought they knew baseball or the NFL from their everyday status as fans would get creamed by the sophisticated players who had spreadsheets and algorithms and spent all day working the sites.
Ultimately, those annoying, ever-present ads attracted the attention of people like New York’s Attorney General, who started to look into DraftKings and FanDuel and consider whether they violated New York’s laws against gambling. Ultimately, the NY AG sent letters to the sites telling them to stop accepting bets from New Yorkers. Other state AGs began investigating, too, and people filed civil lawsuits. DraftKings and FanDuel worked to get states like New York to regulate the industry and permit it to function, so they could start accepting money from New Yorkers again. Now the two companies are talking merger and trying to figure out ways to make the games safer for casual players and avoid predatory play by the pros.
It will be interesting to see whether FanDuel and DraftKings make it. Me, I’m just glad that I’m not seeing the commercials any more.