People love their sports teams, and much of that feeling is carried fan-to-fan in packed stadiums where the electricity of competition and comradery meet overpriced hot dogs and beer for an incomparable in-person shared human experience.
COVID has sidelined stadium sports for now, and like an injured player, the sector is down but far from out. Gaming tech, virtual fans with virtual reality (VR) headsets for point-of-view (POV) viewing are all getting tryouts. For online fantasy sports betting provider DraftKings — which went public in April even as world economies cratered — lockdown boredom and the absence of actual live sports to watch have created a perfect storm of opportunity. It has also put the site in a position to help teams.
“A lot of the leagues and the teams have been looking towards us almost like a beacon of hope in some respects to start driving engagement back to their products [and] platforms,” Dan Hannigan-Daley, director, sportsbook product at DraftKings, recently told PYMNTS.
Noting that the fantasy sports site has “great relationships with groups like the PGA tour and the MLB” that kept working at engaging fans while sports were not happening, Hannigan-Daley said the launch of DraftKings’ MLB Dream Bracket — a simulation of historical best league play for real winnings — is a good example of how sports is reorganizing itself post-pandemic.
“We created pools … where every single day you could come in [and] pick the winner of each of the games that were going on,” he said. “Pick if the San Francisco Giants version of Barry Bonds would hit a home run today or if the Oakland A's Mark McGuire would hit a home run today. What we did see was great engagement on MLB products and back into the DraftKings ecosystem. Fans are craving an outlet ... at a point in time where they couldn't otherwise ... engage with ... sports in any capacity.”
It’s one of several COVID-era innovations from the fantasy sports brand.
In a statement on the August introduction of the new game variant Best Ball, the company said, “As DraftKings’ first foray into a season-long product, Best Ball maintains fans’ connection to the DraftKings’ fantasy sports experience, while answering to a more nostalgic, season-long form.”
The strategy confronts harsh realities about how long it may take for crowds to return to sports and entertainment venues, or if, as in so many other areas, there’s been a permanent shift. If sports, as we know them, won’t be back, sites like DraftKings will take on a new significance.
“We've been very mindful of that fact,” he said, “and making sure that our products are as innovative as possible, and that we're finding new ways to continue to engage fans.”
To that end, Hannigan-Daley said DraftKings will be mining its vast knowledge of platform users to foster fan connections at a distance.
Pointing to their deep knowledge of platform users, he said that, “We have some pretty cool initiatives lined up to further extend that social graph and really make some very unique experiences that frankly other products or platforms, or even leagues won't be able to do because of the wealth of data that we have on the DraftKings system.”
Conceding that “it doesn't necessarily replace that in-stadium experience where you're really connecting,” Hannigan-Daley said that using the platform to help recreate that missing sense of fan connectedness “…is another avenue to get a little bit of that tie to your friends and your family and other fans of those teams.”
Contextual Sportsbook A ‘Game-Changer’
In much the same way that contextual commerce is changing how we shop and buy, contextual sports can likewise allow live viewing opportunities through subscriptions, for example, enabling them to engage anywhere, on any device, in a seamless cross-channel experience.
DraftKings has some interesting thoughts on where that’s headed.
“We have this concept that’s kind of a holy grail for us where it's DraftKings everywhere ... [and fans] have the ability to have a touchpoint and engage with DraftKings whether it's physical advertisements … in Times Square, or the ability to place a wager on your app, or see … an overlay of your fantasy lineup …on … a Hulu TV set up or other TV providers,” Hannigan-Daley said.
“We're moving actually a fair bit along on that path right now.”
DraftKings has used the pandemic to experiment with an assortment of concepts meant to keep the excitement of play and the thrill of shared fan moments alive despite COVID. Its partnership with Turner Media on the match between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson integrated DraftKings odds into the broadcast as an additional fan touchpoint, resulting in DraftKings being “official vending operators overlaid onto the PGA tour live OTT application.”
He described other contextual touchpoints in the works like “watching a game on TV and [switching] the channel [to see] the odds [of your fantasy lineup] … alongside it.”
The Future Of Fandom
With DraftKings Sportsbook available in seven states, the expansion of virtual sportsbooks is inevitable given ongoing pandemic unknowns. The company has been spending against that proposition, betting, it would seem, that things will stay this way for the foreseeable future.
“We've really doubled down on our investment on the fantasy side, especially in recent months with the break-in sports, [which] gave our games team the ability to actually start integrating some of the other types of contests and games that we've previously been desiring to have, but never actually came to the fore,” Hannigan-Daley said.
There have been several new launches of eSports offerings during lockdowns in addition to the popular Madden simulations. “A lot of engaging content is happening on the fantasy side, which gives us that great set of users in the various jurisdictions where fantasy is available, which is I believe 43 of the 50 States,” he said.
Consumers in all 50 states can download the DraftKings app and engage in a variety of games that don’t involve actual betting, including the pool on the upcoming U.S. presidential election, which Hannigan-Daley said already has about 80,000 entries
This is “priming the pump” for a time in the near future when sportsbook is legalized in all 50 U.S. states. “We're doing a lot to get users in the funnel and engaged with sports, even if you're not able to physically place a wager because of state regulations and whatnot,” he said. “We are giving you ways to engage with sports, whether it's fantasy or free-to-play games.”
New sportsbook states are coming online in a rather plodding pace, and where it’s required, DraftKings partners with entities that hold state gaming licenses to get in-app wagering off the ground. The company recently expanded into Illinois via a casino partnership.
“One of the things that we've focused on as an organization is a seamless user experience. It's one user account, one user wallet” regardless of what state you’re in or what DraftKings game you’re playing. “And then, as you enter different jurisdictions, the experience will simply change based on the regulations that are … transposed or transcribed for us to adhere to,” he said.
Similarly, DraftKings has partnered with The New Hampshire State Lottery, allowing fully digital operations with no need for connection to physical casinos and their gaming licenses.
As more gaming moves online, verification is a central consideration for states and platforms. The company currently uses a two-step identity verification system, but that could change.
For now, he said, “And then we'll partner with … the known entities within the gaming space as far as verification goes, same with geolocation, as well as LexisNexis geocomply.”
Rewards are key to loyalty, and DraftKings hasn’t been idle on this front during lockdowns. Describing a recent promotion where users who bet $1 on an Lakers vs. Denver Nuggets NBA game received incremental free bets, Hannigan-Daley said “We had 74,000 users bet on that game. Subsequently, all 74,000 of those users got a $74 free bet that gets distributed to them.”
Add to this coming developments like the merging of sports wagering and team stats tracking into a unified app experience designed to put some sizzle back into 2020 sports for frustrated fans.
“We're going to start to see a bit of convergence as far as … the sports betting product and your traditional … sports media product,” he said. “If you're a sports fan, you can cover your DraftKings and get all of the information that you need around players, teams, rosters, lineups, we'll also be able to place your bet, sweat your bet, and potentially live stream that event as well.”
The Sportsbook app began live streaming of select sports programming in May.