The Innovation That's Rockin' Fantasy Football

Photo by: Cristiano Gatti

Photo by: Cristiano Gatti

It's September, which means there will be one thing and only one thing on my mind the next four months: football, specifically Fantasy Football. I've been playing the game for ten years and am hooked— some might say unhealthfully obsessed.  If you've never played Fantasy Football, you should know that success requires a lot of predictive statistical analysis and a little luck. And when they both align for you, it's just ... satisfying.

Recently an innovation in the fantasy sports industry has been gaining a lot of popularity:  Daily Fantasy Football. As both a design thinker and fantasy football player, I was intrigued with this new format for fantasy sports, so I did a little digging. Here's what I discovered. 

What’s Fantasy Football?
Fantasy Football is an online game where 8 to 16 individuals join a league and serve as general managers of their teams. Each individual’s role is to assemble the best team possible using real NFL players through a draft. An NFL player may appear on only one roster in a league. The goal is to aggregate more points than your opponent each week with the players on your team, which are based on the statistical performance of your players. The teams with the best head-to-head record at the end of the season advance to the playoffs and contend for the championship title. Depending on the league, the prize is either pride and/or money at the end of the season.

What’s Daily Fantasy Football?
Unlike Fantasy Football, where you are stuck with the team you drafted at the beginning of the season, the team you build in Daily Fantasy Football lasts one weekend as opposed to an entire season. The new format gives you the liberty to compile as many new teams as you want each week. A league may consist of 2 to more than 60,000 players competing against each other. Your goal is to compile the best team of NFL players that will statistically give you the most points for a cash prize. Here is an explainer video on the new format from FanDuel, the leader in the industry.

Why does Daily Fantasy Football work?
To better understand this, I focused on FanDuel and viewed it from the lens of the venn diagram commonly used to describe Design Thinking – User Desirability, Technical Feasibility and Business Viability.

User Desirability: The new style of play addresses the many pains that I have experienced as a fantasy football player:

  • Early season player injuries decimated my team, eliminating me from the playoffs.
  • I disliked like the team I drafted. 
  • I lose multiple (close) games because the fantasy football gods are against me.
  • Eighteen weeks is a long season/commitment.

The new weekly format introduces a combination of change and speed. Participants are able to create new teams (change) and leagues only last one week (speed). I am no longer restricted to the team I drafted at the beginning of a season.

Technical Feasibility: FanDuel developed a product that has great UX design. There is a lot of drag-and-drop functionality and it is very intuitive to use. The experience of assembling a team is slightly better than larger websites like ESPN and Yahoo, which are the two most popular platforms for Fantasy Football.

Business Viability: The traditional fantasy football websites like ESPN and Yahoo generally rely on paid premium content (e.g., in-depth look to weekly match-ups, additional statistical analysis, expert reviews, etc.) for revenue. An entry fee isn’t generally required to be part of a league. However, FanDuel’s business model relies on entry fees ranging from $0 to over $5,000, and the size of a league varies from 2 to over 45,000. In any given week there can be over 12,000 leagues in a single day. Their formula for revenue is entry fees minus cash prizes. In 2014, they are projected to make $40 million.

FanDuel’s success is no accident. The testimonials and accolades on their homepage show a strong following. It makes me wonder, how else might we innovate fantasy sports? 

What innovations have you seen in your favorite hobby? Write a comment or send me a message @jimmy_tran