Tonight, in a few hours, the NFL will open for the 2015 season. It has become the nation’s religion and opiate. In terms of media, and especially TV, it remains the ratings buster, becoming the backbone for ISPs to sell bundled media packages. All of this is well known and documented.
What’s slightly different about about this forthcoming season, this year, is a convergence of trends that involves the world of startups, mobile apps, fantasy sports, and real-money gaming:
(1) Fantasy Sports On Mainstream Precipice: If you listen to sports radio (like me) and/or visit the typical sports media sites, no doubt you’ve been inundated with all varieties of promotions for fantasy sports. This is peak season for these networks and the league to scoop up new users around the draft and start of the season. It is very social behavior and how many groups elect to stay in touch beyond group messenger chat apps.
(2) Real-Money Gaming Baked Into Fantasy: Many of these leagues would pay season dues to CBS or other providers to host their leagues and keep stats, and on the side, many would chip in a pool to award the season’s winner a cash bounty, to keep things interesting. Over the past few years, huge, fast-growing startups like FanDuel and Draft Kings would bring these two forces together, allowing people to play via mobile, enter leagues quicker, enter multiple leagues, and to create depositor accounts and issue huge payouts. (It’s very similar to the Texas Hold ‘Em craze which swept through ESPN and 20-something houses almost a decade ago before it hit a regulatory snag.)
(3) Real-Time Audience Aggregation Power Of Television: For live events, TV is still excellent at aggregating live audiences, and nothing is better than live sports — in particular, live NFL football. People around the world, right now, even if they hate the Patriots and couldn’t care about the Steelers, they are going to watch and follow this game. When audiences form around the game, the pre-game, the post-game, they’ll be hearing ads for fantasy sports apps and those which have the ability to play with real money and take these social leagues to the next level. It is happening fast, the economics work, and most importantly, the sports leagues and the owners and network providers want and need this to happen.
The NFL owns Sunday culture, and with Monday Night Football and the newest addition of Thursday Night Football, is creeping into more of the nation’s free time and prime time. Daily fantasy sports with the allure of prize money attached to it turns what is a once-a-week product into a daily active use case product. When you combine the addiction toward the NFL product, the power of network TV, the social draw of fantasy leagues, the permeance of mobile apps, and the specter of winning real money, the result is a perfect storm of fans to “get into the game” in a whole new way.