Daily fantasy sports have changed the way we watch sports. Season-long fantasy sports had already shifted fandom of sports to a different level, with fans rooting for players alongside their favorite team. However, the arrival of DFS has shifted that even further, as now money can be won and lost on a fantasy sports game each and every time a sports team takes to the field. The shift has been extremely noticeable when it comes to daily fantasy football in particular.

The NFL already dominated social media on a Sunday, but daily fantasy football has taken that to a new level. In some cases, the rise of DFS and daily fantasy football has completely blurred the lines of fandom. For some, the draw of winning their game and earning money can at least ease the pain of seeing your team losing, and for others, it has become more important. In these cases, the mood on Sunday nights and Monday mornings are no longer dependent on how your team did in their game, but how successful your daily fantasy football team was.

While season-long leagues tend to dominate fantasy football conversations during the week, as the weekend draws closer, it is the daily side of the sport that tends to start making the headlines on fantasy information websites. This rise of the DFS world and the way it has changed how we watch sports is driving a new generation of fans. Let’s take a look at the history of DFS and how sports leagues have gradually embraced this growing phenomenon.

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Daily Fantasy Football


A brief history of the emergence of DFS and daily fantasy football

The concept of DFS is not new, with versions dating back as far as 1990. These games ran through newspapers across the country with hundreds of thousands of readers taking part. While these games were the first concept of DFS, the development of mainstream DFS competitions on the internet took another 15 years.

It was 2007 when Instant Fantasy Sports were inspired by online poker to “take the time frame of season-long fantasy sports leagues and shrink it.” The boom for DFS really started in 2009, with the launch of FanDuel by an Edinburgh based company that has its roots in the prediction market. FanDuel attempted to capitalize on a loophole in the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, where the legality of fantasy sports did not state that the competition had to be season-long.

In 2012, we saw the arrival of DraftKings and the race to dominate the industry began. Since the arrival of those two companies, DFS sites have risen and fallen. Some have folded, others merged with one of DraftKings or FanDuel, with only the Yahoo Sports DFS platform being seen as a major competitor as it stands in 2020. A potential merger between DraftKings and FanDuel was stopped by the Federal Trade Commission in order to prevent that single company having a monopoly over the DFS market.

DFS companies received a major boost with the legalization of sports betting in 2018. This allowed FanDuel and DraftKings to extend their offering in the form of sportsbooks alongside their DFS sites. The legalization has also seen the spread of DFS availability around America. Gradually more and more states are challenging the legality of the 1992 Profession and Amateur Sports Act, opening up opportunities for both sports betting and DFS.

The growth of DFS has seen these sites offering a wide range of contests. Sporting contests all over the world are now open to DFS games, and both companies also offer the ability to play DFS games for e-sports. That market is ever-expanding and with more e-sports leagues developing for different video games the potential of this avenue is somewhat unlimited.

The acceptance of DFS in sports

Sports leagues have been understandably hesitant to embrace the DFS world completely. Major League Baseball was the first to take the plunge when they invested in DraftKings in 2013. The investment was part of what has become an arms race between DraftKings and FanDuel to obtain enough outside investment to be able to develop ahead of the competition.

DraftKings also struck the next blow in the race for acceptance from sports leagues. In 2014, the National Hockey League entered into a multi-year sponsorship deal with DraftKings. This deal complimented sponsorship deals that DraftKings already had with seven of their franchises.

November also saw FanDuel receive the endorsement of one of the big four sports. Not only did FanDuel and the National Basketball Association agree to a sponsorship deal, but the NBA also acquired an equity stake. Of the three sports to sign deals with DFS companies, the NBA was by far the biggest player so far. However, arguably the biggest opportunity was still available in the form of the National Football League, who had so far been watching the development of DFS from the sidelines.

The NFL eventually embraces daily fantasy football

While the other major sports in America have all taken the plunge with DFS companies, the NFL remained a bystander. However, while the other sports have the advantage of being truly daily, the NFL’s once-a-week style has given DFS companies the opportunity to advertise big winnings to their players on daily fantasy football contests. That opportunity made sealing deals with NFL franchises, and ultimately the league, the holy grail for both companies.

In April 2015, the NFL allowed its franchises to sign sponsorship deals with DFS companies. This led to FanDuel signing deals with 16 teams for advertising placements. However, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft also invested in the Boston-based DraftKings.

The development of a relationship between DFS companies and the NFL slowed after those two steps in 2015. However, in 2019, the NFL and DraftKings announced a multi-year DFS deal, making DraftKings the official daily fantasy partner for the NFL. The deal crucially gives DraftKings exclusive NFL sponsorships in the DFS category and access to NFL branding across gaming and content platforms.

This next step for the NFL is the beginning of a bigger story. Many see DFS as a gateway into the sports betting world for the NFL, and DraftKings now has its foot in the door for when the NFL is ready to accept a partner on the sports betting side of the industry. The NFL will be keeping a keen eye on the response from their fans to seeing more DFS advertising. Already the NFL has signed a deal with Caesars’ casino, which given they just moved a franchise to Las Vegas makes a lot of sense. This DFS deal, combined with the casino deal is the NFL dipping its toe in the water to gauge the acceptance of its fans.


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