DraftKings began its expansion outside of North America on Friday, opening up its platform to DFS players in the UK. In an interview with Wired, company CIO Jeffrey Haas spoke about the challenges of launching a daily fantasy site in a new country, and made his case as to why he thinks that the industry will be successful there.
‘Proper football’ is king
The DraftKings execs understand that while NFL contests are the bread-and-butter of American DFS sites, “proper football” (soccer) would be the point of focus in the UK. The site doesn’t lack experience in the sport, and has been offering English Premier League and Champions League competitions for 2.5 years.
After doing some testing overseas, however, they found out that their scoring system – based only on goals, assists and saves – was not as robust as potential UK customers would like. In response, they revamped the scoreboard and now take into account a total of 19 different play events.
“It encourages players to follow along for the whole game, because even clean sheets at the end of the match are relevant when you have individual players in contest,” Haas said.
While DraftKings begins to introduce DFS to the UK market, the country’s early customers won’t be faced with empty contests. The company will pool its 200,000 US soccer users with their European counterparts to give all players more options and create bigger guarantees.
“We also have Major League Soccer, which is growing in the US,” added Haas. “And we’re seeing proper football growing in the US since the last World Cup, it’s becoming increasingly mainstream.”
US sports in the UK
When asked if UK players might develop an interest in popular US sports like American football or baseball, Haas said that he had recently been to NFL matches in the UK and that three of them had sold out. “Of course there were some American tourists but it was mostly a British audience and the NFL is doing a phenomenal job of growing their audience here in the UK,” he added.
But for now, proper football will reign supreme in the country. “We’re under no illusion that our top three sports in the UK won’t be anything else than football, football and football, but we’re definitely hoping that we can grow the audiences for [US] sports in the UK,” said Haas.
The DraftKings exec also spoke about becoming licensed in the country, and what he thought about being labeled a “gambling” company by UK regulators.
So in 2005, the UK GC introduced a comprehensive a regulatory review of the rules and practices in the UK by which they were going to regulate all games and contests regardless of element of skill. So in order for us to operate in the UK, we have to have a license from the UKGC. So we told them about our product and they advised us that the category for our product was pool-betting. We’re operating in the UK under a pool-betting license.
He added that the company will face a variety of regulatory requirements unique to each country in which it hopes to operate. He said that Malta, for example, is introducing a skill game regime divided into two classes – fantasy sports and eSports.
Analysts say that the DFS industry faces several challenges in the UK, including competing against entrenched legal online gambling interests and attracting players in a mostly unproven market.
That aside, DraftKings is hoping that its UK product will catch on and help diversify and expand the company’s revenue streams outside of the US.