Spring’s arrival brings the blooming of flowers, and more importantly for baseball enthusiasts, the sharp crack of the bat as well. The first pitch also signals the arrival of MLB DFS contests, which accounted for close to a quarter of all entry fees generated in the industry in 2015, according to published reports. As in previous seasons, every DFS site in the industry is offering MLB contests in the 2016 season, with several special GPP tournaments on tap to commemorate Opening Day.
FanDuel and DraftKings Leading the Way
Unsurprisingly, industry leaders FanDuel and DraftKings will offer the largest prize pools over the course of the season, and that certainly holds true for Opening Day as well. Among its offerings on Monday, April 4, DraftKings will feature the MLB $400K Season Opener, which boasts a $400,000 prize pool and awards a $100,000 prize to the first-place finisher.
For those with a taste and bankroll for a larger buy-in event, the MLB Curveball offers the same $100,000 first prize to the top score, but among a much smaller pool consisting of 1334 players. Two differently-sized versions of the $3 buy-in MLB Moonshot, with respective prize pools of $300,000 and $100,000, as well as the equally prized MLB Slider, which carries a three-entry maximum and features a $100,000 prize pool, are also options for those looking to dive into MLB large-field tournaments from Day 1.
FanDuel, which, unlike DraftKings, does not offer other sports such as NASCAR and PGA throughout spring and summer, puts a considerable amount of resources into its MLB contests, and is offering a more plentiful array as the season kicks off. Leading the way is the $250K Grand Slam, which will feature 11,560 participants, a $20,000 first prize and $250,000 total prize pool at a $25 buy-in level.
A pair of $200,000 prize pool contests—the MLB Squeeze and MLB Monster—follow closely behind with buy-in levels at opposite ends of the spectrum. While $2 is all it takes to stake a claim in the mammoth 115,606-contestant Squeeze, a $300 investment will be required for a shot in the 744-player Monster. The latter also doubles the first-place prize, with $30,000 going to the top finisher. FanDuel will also roll out a host of other options on Opening Day with buy-in levels ranging from $1 to $1,065, including the Sac Fly, Rally, Line Drive, Pickle and Slugger tournaments.
Yahoo/Smaller Operators Not Quite Swinging for the Fences
While not approximating the size and scope of the contests offered by DFS’ Big Two, some of the industry’s mid-tier operators are marking the return of hardball with Opening Day-themed tournaments as well.
Yahoo, which dipped its toe into the DFS waters for the first time midway through last year’s MLB campaign, kicks off its first full baseball season with a $10,000 prize pool tournament that carries a $5 buy-in. First prize among the expected 2,272 contestants receives $1,000.
Fantasy Aces offers a $20,000 Opening Day Grand Slam, which features a $27.50 entry fee and top prize of $2,500 to the first-place finisher, among a maximum pool of 800 contestants. A $1,000 Freeroll with a top prize of $150 is also being offered, with participants competing against Jeff Mans of Fantasy Alarm.
Over on Fantasy Feud, a $25,000 prize pool will be distributed in a $33 buy-in MLB Opening Day tournament that features a $5,000 first-place prize. A $5.50 entry fee version of the contest awards $500 to the top score.
Live Final Announcements Expected Soon
A short time after the Opening Day hoopla dies down, DraftKings, FanDuel and Fantasy Aces, the three DFS operators with a history of MLB live finals, are expected to announce the details of their respective events for the 2016 season. Of particular interest this year will be the magnitude of the contests, which have progressively increased with each successive season up to this point in each company’s history.
Given the considerable legal and lobbying expenses that both DraftKings and FanDuel have incurred in recent months, as well a reduction in their overall player bases due to regulatory conflicts in various states, the two industry giants may well downsize their live final contests in what is already a transitional year in the DFS industry.
DraftKings offered a $4 million total prize pool for its 2015 Fantasy Baseball Championship in Las Vegas, with $1 million awarded to first place, and a total of $850,000 awarded to contestants finishing in second-fifth place. Given the exit of DFS operators from Nevada late in 2015 due to a gaming license now being required to operate in the state, both the location and the overall prize pool is likely to see a change in 2016.
FanDuel countered with its World Fantasy Baseball Championship last season, which offered its own $4 million total prize pool, and $1 million to its top finisher as well. The 89-contestant pool divided the other $3 million at the late August event, which also unfolded in Las Vegas. The contest was preceded by the Playboy Baseball Championship in June, a “warm-up” of sorts at the Playboy Mansion that awarded $100,000 to first-place and boasted a $750,000 prize pool.
Fantasy Aces offered a mid-August $250,000 World Baseball Championship last season at Angels Stadium, featuring a 20-contestant field and $100,000 first prize. The prize package included an opportunity to take batting practice at the stadium.
Fantasy Feud made some waves last MLB season with its own momentous end-of-season tournament, albeit one that was held exclusively online. The two-day final took place in early September 2015, and featured a $150,000 top prize and $500,000 total prize pool. The winner was the contestant with the largest cumulative score over the two-day period. The status of a possible 2016 version of the contest remains unknown.
MLB Filling the Gap for Both Sites and Players
While sometimes not receiving the same attention as the NFL and NBA among players, MLB DFS fills an important spring-summer gap for both sites, and for enthusiasts looking to keep their contest participation between the conclusion of NBA season and the kickoff of the NFL campaign. Despite recent industry turmoil, the progressively increasing interest in DFS could well bring about new high-water marks for participation in MLB contests across the industry in 2016.