Fantasy sports fans will soon be able to draft their favourite Canadian Football League players.
DraftKings allows users to make a team from athletes in major league sports and compete for cash or bragging rights (if users opt to play contests without an entry fee) based on their team members’ performance in real life.
The partnership is only for the 2016 season, but the company hopes to continue working with the CFL in future years, said Jeffrey Haas, the site’s chief international officer.
DraftKings and the CFL have partnered to run several contests without an entry free. The first free contest will have a $5,000 pool of prize money, said Matt Kalish, the Boston-based company’s chief revenue officer.
Online fantasy sports has surged in popularity recently, with the number of players in North America growing by 15 per cent over the last two years, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
Currently, some 57.4 million players participate in fantasy sports on the continent, according to a recent online survey conducted by Ipsos Public Affairs for the FSTA, with 4.9 million players in Canada. The average player spends US$556 a year on these games, according to the Ipsos report.
DraftKings said the majority of its seven million players are in the United States but there are hundreds of thousands who live in Canada.
Partnering with the CFL will allow the company to provide Canadian users with the ability to play daily fantasy sports based on a popular sport in Canada, said Kalish. It will also expose American users focused on the site’s NFL contests to a similar sport in Canada.
DraftKings, which operates in North America and the United Kingdom, said it is also eyeing expansion into other markets, including Australia and India, where online games are popular, Haas said.
“We’re not there yet, but our plan is to go into those markets.”
Haas denied that future international expansion and its increased Canadian presence were linked to concerns around the legal status of daily fantasy sports sites in some U.S. states.
“It has nothing to do with what’s happening in the U.S.,” Haas said, adding that the company had been considering international expansion before legal questions arose in the U.S.
Some states have declared that companies like DraftKings are illegal gambling operations, while many states have introduced regulations or are considering regulating the industry. Currently, residents of seven states can’t play for prize money on DraftKings.
Last week, New York lawmakers passed a bill to define daily fantasy sports contests as games of skill rather than chance _ a key distinction in determining legality.
The company welcomed the news in a statement from CEO Jason Robins, who said he was hopeful Gov. Andrew Cuomo would sign the bill into law. Cuomo’s spokesman told The Associated Press on Saturday that aides were reviewing the bill.