In spite of the name, fantasy sports is a big and serious business. It’s so serious that some sports fans are willing to put aside allegiances to teams they’ve supported for decades and cheer for their arch rival’s star playmaker to work his magic so they get all the fantasy points they can and win their league’s money pool.
Virtually every sport has at least one platform dedicated to fantasy leagues, but the biggest by far are those dedicated to North American leagues like NFL and the NBA, mostly due to the fact that Americans can’t actually bet on sports directly, as sports betting is illegal (which means they are spared from the countless betting ads Australian sports fans have to sit through during a sports broadcast) – fantasy sports is virtually the only way to do it.
With the rapid growth of fantasy sports platforms over the last few years, a new model has emerged: daily and weekly fantasy sports, meaning less commitment than a season-long league and more opportunities to win. The two biggest platforms in the space are huge: FanDuel raised a $275 million Series E round in June, while DraftKings raised $300 million in a Series D in July from investors including Major League Baseball Ventures, Major League Soccer, and the National Hockey League.
An Australian startup is looking to be the go-to daily fantasy sports platform in the local market. Founded by Andrew Whiteman, Matt Tapper, and Paul MacTier, FantasyKing allows users to join leagues according to buy-in cost, select a team, and wait for their management skills to come out on top and win them the prize pool.
“The beauty of it is that even if you come in halfway through a season, for example the English Premier League or AFL, everyone starts with a blank canvas each week and they can choose under the salary cap. We give them a $10 million salary cap and under that you have to choose your full team of players,” Whiteman said.
For the uninitiated, points are awarded for different skills demonstrated by players, whether it’s scoring a goal, keeping a clean sheet, tackles made, and so on. There will be free games each week to let new users try the product or give those who can’t or don’t want to spend money the chance to play. The paid competitions range from winner takes all to tiered leagues with varying risks and rewards.
Whiteman, who has also been working on another sports-related startup he describes as a kind of LinkedIn and Slack for athletes, said the idea for the platform came last Christmas, when he was talking to a friend about fantasy sports. He said the main inspiration came from watching the hyper growth of the US-based platforms; given the popularity of fantasy sports locally with the NRL and AFL SuperCoach competition, they saw the opportunity to create a daily fantasy platform.
There’s one main competitor in the local market, Moneyball, though it may not prove to be too big an obstacle to overcome if the FantasyKing team can implement their big vision and provide users with more than just a fantasy platform. Whiteman said Fantasy King aims to be the “best second screen experience” for sports fans.
Whiteman explained, “People are watching the game on TV or at the stadium live, but they’ll actually follow the game on a mobile device too, and we want to be that device. What are the player stats, game progress, game commentary. That’s a great sort of space to be in and definitely the future of following sports. The fantasy game coupled with that is a great way to take on your mates and see how their team is tracking live as opposed to your team and what players you picked.”
FantasyKing launched last month with AFL to test how things were working. NRL and cricket will be added to the platform over the coming months, but Whiteman believes huge potential for growth lies with the English Premier League, which has a huge fan base in Australia and, more importantly, Asia. A number of EPL teams visit Asia on pre-season tours each year, desperate to grab a share of a huge market: it’s estimated that there are 1.3 billion football fans in Asia.
“With the two major players in the US, you’d need some fairly deep pockets to go in there and compete…we’re really excited about the opportunity to be the number 1 in Australia and grow in through Asia Pacific,” Whiteman said.
The development of FantasyKing thus far has been funded by the three cofounders, who have been working on the platform outside their full time jobs. Whiteman said the team has seen some interest from investors – no surprise given the popularity of fantasy sports right now – and they’re hoping to secure funding soon in order to grow the platform quickly and secure their footing in the market.
Image: Andrew Whiteman and Matt Tapper. Source: Provided