Q&A: Football Fanager

While studying for his Master’s at Georgetown University in Washington DC, Marc Saba witnessed the growth of fantasy sports as a multi-billion dollar industry in North America, and the rise of its most engaging version – daily cash fantasy sports games. He identified a gap in the European market, with little to no daily offering around the world’s most popular sport: football. Marc co-founded Scotland-based FootballFanager back in 2013, launching it before the 2014 World Cup. Casino International Online (CIO): Tell us about FootballFanager Marc Saba (MS): The concept is simple: choose a starting XI (there are no substitutes to worry about) with a £250m budget and record the highest score to win. Players are priced at transfer values that reflect the market and points scored are based on real-life performances. Game stats are supplied by Opta to ensure accuracy and validity at all times. Members can join existing leagues or create their own head-to-head competitions that are run with Premier League, Ligue 1, Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga, as well as Champions League and major international tournaments. More leagues and cups will be added for the 2015/16 season. We also host big tournaments with guaranteed cash prizes. Each real-money competition has a different entry fee that reflects payouts. FootballFanager charges a 10% rake per bet. FootballFanager allows players to take part in the popular daily variant of the game that sees bets settled after a round of fixtures. However, weekly and traditional season-long variations are also available, as are social games where tokens are staked. We already boast 17,000 members who compete for cash and a range of rewards – from signed memorabilia to once-in-a-lifetime prizes. We have quickly grabbed a significant market share having launched just before the World Cup in June 2014. CIO: Where is the market for fantasy players going to come from – sports fans or sports bettors? MS: There is no set route to becoming a fantasy player. Being a sports fan is likely – although there are auto-select options if players need help picking their teams – and some level of previous betting experience is going to make someone more likely to engage with real-money versions of the game. However, fantasy sports are often seen as softer than sports betting so, if anything, have an even broader potential customer base, including more female and older players. CIO: Why are real-money daily fantasy sports so huge in the States? MS: There are a number of reasons that real-money fantasy is incredibly popular in America. The ban on online sports betting is certainly a part of this, but it is not entirely down to the 2006 Wire Act. Other factors that have contributed to its rise include the explosion in interest and commodification of statistics. This modern fascination ties in perfectly with the analysis required for fantasy, which is made possible by constant access to the online world. The incredible levels of broadcast coverage is another important facilitator – more players in more countries can watch how their selections are getting on. The overall fantasy sports industry is said to be worth more than $10 billion. It represents a regular pastime for many, with an estimated 42 million players in the US and Canada alone. At the moment pay-to-play offerings like FanDuel or DraftKings comprise only a fraction of this. But consider the fact that market leader FanDuel already pays out more than $10 million in winnings each week and you can see that the potential is awesome. CIO: Do you think we’ll ever see these numbers in the UK and Europe? MS: In the UK alone 20% of adult males regularly manage a fantasy football team. There is a large market already there that needs no education on the rules of the game. If you are going to spend hours researching team selections, then why not try to make a profit from this effort? Given the popularity of sports betting there is a large cross-over and it is a simple step to move to real-money. CIO: Why do you think we don’t currently see more operators offering fantasy products? MS: Real money fantasy sports are a new entrant in an established marketplace. Sports betting, poker, bingo, casino – these are all verticals that have long histories, first in the land-based environment and now online and on mobile. By comparison, fantasy is a far less mature product. The original concept was devised a generation ago so it has also built up a loyal following of players who understand how it works, but the idea of wagering on your team selections is virtually brand new. As the cash game continues to develop – with more markets and new sports – so will the number of players and operators offering the product. CIO: How key is a mobile offering when it comes to fantasy sports? MS: As with any form of igaming an optimised mobile offering is simply vital. For an increasing number of people, smartphone and tablet devices are their main – if not only – access point to the internet from a personal, leisure-time perspective. CIO: UK-facing fantasy is almost exclusively focused on football. Which other sports are suitable? MS: Fantasy works with all team sports. At the moment the main two are both ‘football’: soccer in the UK and NFL in the USA. Other traditional American sports are also popular and we will see the likes of rugby, cricket and more added as the market grows. Furthermore, individual sports can also be adapted to meet the fantasy model. If you can watch it on TV, or bet on it, then one day there will be a fantasy offering for it too.