On Friday, daily fantasy sport enthusiasts joined the estimated 8.5 million season-long fantasy football fans in the United Kingdom as the world’s leading daily fantasy sports platform, DraftKings, announced its official launch into the U.K. market.
In August, gambling regulators in the U.K. granted the Boston-based company a license. The company had hoped to launch by 2015’s end, but was put off to early this year, with officials stating that the website’s software had yet to be finalized.
States including Illinois, New York, Texas and Hawaii, among others, have challenged the legality of daily fantasy sports, while they were declared gambling operations in Nevada and require licensing. The online contests involve players who assemble teams of real life professional athletes for fee-based contests where they compete against others based on individual “fantasy” performance.
Whether or not the U.K. can match the industry’s phenomenal growth in the U.S. remains to be seen. Sports betting remains, for the most part, illegal in the U.S., so DraftKings did not have to compete with an already lucrative, well-entrenched sports gambling industry, something that the U.K. already possessed. DraftKings London-based chief international officer, Jeff Haas, said the company is focusing on showing customers in the U.K. how daily fantasy sports differ from traditional sports betting. Haas hope DraftKings can attract up to 100,000 players in year one, according to the Associated Press.
Having been launched initially as a smartphone app, the product itself will have to be shored up by DraftKings. Currently, it’s not set up to accept direct credit and debit card deposits, according to David Copeland, CEO of SuperLobby.com, a firm based in the U.K. that tracks daily fantasy sports spending. Haas says in about a month when a full website version launches, players will be able to make credit and debit card purchases through PayPal.
Meanwhile, other daily fantasy sports operators are also entering the U.K. market. DraftKings main industry rival, FanDuel, has an application pending for a U.K. license that was applied for in November. And another major fantasy sports operator, Yahoo, has partnered with daily fantasy sports company Mondogoal, which is already operating in the U.K. with a focus on soccer. While UEFA Champions League and English Premier League soccer are heavily emphasized by DraftKings’ U.K. product, NFL, NBA, NHL as well as other sports competitions will be accessible to players.
Hints have been dropped over the past few weeks of the anticipated U.K. release, the launch of companion website, DraftKingsFC.com, and partnerships with English Premier League clubs Arsenal, Liverpool and Watford, being announced. The former is a partner to the regular website and a way for players to get news, strategy and research. While on Friday Haas declined to speak on future expansion plans, saying the focus for now is growing its U.K. brand, the company previously has said its goal is to open websites in Asia and Latin America, as well as other parts of Europe.
Since its launch in 2012, DraftKings has paid out more than one billion dollars in cash prizes and boasts just over six million registered users to date. Unlike any other fantasy platform, its free to register and offers contests in 11 major sports including the NFL, NHL, NBA, Premier League, UEFA Champions League, Major League Soccer, UFC, golf, NASCAR and eSports. More than 200,000 players from Canada and the U.S. have taken part in daily fantasy football contests across the UEFA Champions League, Premier League and major League Soccer, making DraftKings the biggest football provider in the world.