One of the great hazards of writing this column several days in advance of its posting is that I don’t have the omniscience that would enable me to know how developing sports marketing stories will evolve in our limited-attention span, citizen journalism-fed, instant-gratification news cycle. So as I put fingers to keypad to riff on why I’m still a big advocate of Daily Fantasy sites, the latest scandal du jour could move in any number of directions.
But just as I’m not clairvoyant enough to know if there is merit to the allegations of “insider trading” as some of the more sensationalistic reports have dubbed things, at this moment, I also recognize that the presumed guilty are not necessarily soothsayers either. In other words, absent an even more sordid underbelly to this story that would be wrong to assume, employees of Fan Duel or Draft Kings shouldn’t be any more or less capable of predicting the outcomes of sporting events than anyone else who pores over statistics, builds algorithms or simply plays the hunch that Devonta Freeman is going to continue to light it up for my fantasy team, after coming out of the woodwork three weeks ago.
The obsessive stats geeks exist. Some are professional gamblers. Some are rabid fans. Others are quant types, not all that different from marketing researchers like my colleagues and I, who, similar to the athletes that we are vesting our fantasy futures on, are going to seek any form of advantage that we can muster to be competitive. And just like the athletes that we are drafting onto our fantasy rosters, we still have to perform. Nothing is guaranteed in sports.
Part of the allure that captivates fans is the unpredictability and opportunity that each game presents to showcase something unique and unprecedented. This week’s waiver wire darling can be next week’s flop. We are all just one torn ACL away from seeing the greatest line-up crash to the ground. So, I guess I’m not bothered by the possibility that certain employees at fantasy sites may or may not be among the most successful participants. This is their job. They should have a natural “house advantage” for similar reasons that an editor should be among the favorites at a spelling bee.
I’m not going to win the U.S. Open Golf Championship because I do not possess the talent or dedicate the time to compete at that elite a level. But I can still attempt to qualify and derive satisfaction out of that competition both against others and my own goals or expectations. Daily Fantasy Sports should not be held to any higher standard. For all but the most elite players, these games are, at their essence, an amusement. Daily fantasy is the perfect illustration of what I labeled in a previous posting, participatory fandom. Draft Kings and Fan Duel enable sports junkies to immerse themselves further in the games, introduce them to a broader array of players beyond those on their favorite teams, and build interest and engagement by extending the competition to themselves.
Daily Fantasy, just like the earliest Rotisserie Leagues of 30-plus years ago, are the perfect confluence of our viral society of micro communities and a zeal to get closer to the entertainment properties and celebrities that captivate us. They are a compelling and fertile ground for sports marketers, because they align themselves with wanted diversion rather than something more life critical.
I don’t expect to emerge from a pool of 10,000 “NFL Survivor” participants to win the $1million first prize, just as I know that I will never win the U.S. Open. But I enter with an expectation that I will have fun and be able to compete with friends and peers and that justifies the price of admission. No one owes me any more than that. I recognize that I’m not going to be able to quit my day job by playing fantasy sports. I can always walk away.
So, I bristle when the Daily Fantasy allegations bring about suggestions of government intervention and regulation. We have bigger issues in this country and abroad to deal with, that my hard-earned tax dollars shouldn’t be lining the pockets of lawyers and politicians over-policing what has become a true sports marketing phenomenon. I’d rather keep a few more of those dollars so that I can entertain myself by trying to discover the next Devonta Freeman.