The same year the Toronto Argos have relocated to trendy Liberty Village, the CFL is seeking more ways to engage young adults who have disposable income.
And the same month daily fantasy sports operators reached an agreement that may allow them to resume business in New York state, industry leader Draft Kings is looking to expand its presence in Canada.
Both partners hope the comprehensive partnership they announced Monday afternoon will hit those targets.
The deal will see Draft Kings add a slate of CFL games to its fantasy sports menu, offering winners prizes like tickets and VIP experiences as well as cash. Draft Kings will also advertise extensively at CFL games.
While Draft Kings, which sponsors MLSE and its teams, has experience north of the border, this deal marks the CFL’s first partnership with a major U.S.-based fantasy operator. Draft Kings chief revenue officer Matt Kalish says connecting with the CFL strengthens the company’s presence in an important market.
“As we’ve built our platform out, we’ve been able to add more and more sports and we’ve been able to localize,” Kalish says. “We saw the opportunity to tackle either the first or second-most popular sport in Canada . . . For a lot of people (the CFL) is their favourite sport.”
The CFL, meanwhile, is eager to leverage any tool that can help it penetrate the 18-34 demographic. In a poll of Ontario residents conducted late last year by Forum Research, no respondents in that age range listed the Argos as their primary rooting interest.
But Christina Litz, the CFL’s senior VP of marketing and content, says younger adults are open to following the CFL if the league can find the right hook. She points out that among people who played the league’s online Pick ’Em game last season, 40 per cent were younger than 35.
Expanded fantasy sports options speak directly to that cohort, Litz says, and should allow the league to expand its popularity among people who don’t want to consume sports passively.
“Football itself is such a lean-in kind of sport,” Litz said. “More and more, that’s the case when our fans are watching the games. They’re not necessarily content to sit back and just watch a broadcast. They’re looking for new ways of interacting.”
According to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association more than 57 million North Americans play fantasy sports, spending an average of $556 each year. Industry growth accelerated last autumn as Draft Kings and Fan Duel spent aggressively to advertise during NFL broadcasts.
Many of the commercials featured players who had won massive cash prizes in large fantasy games, prompting lawmakers in many U.S. states to ask whether daily fantasy was just legalized gambling. Suspicion grew when a Draft Kings employee won $350,000 at Fan Duel.
Soon, class action lawsuits followed and several states, including New York, outlawed daily fantasy sports. But last week New York state senate ruled that daily fantasy sports aren’t gambling, and sent a bill legalizing them to governor Andrew Cuomo.
Draft Kings officials describe their business as “seasonal,” with action peaking during the NFL season dropping precipitously each winter. The breakthrough in New York and the deal with CFL are well-timed for Draft Kings, which thinks Canadian expansion can help them fill the gap between NFL seasons.
– Toronto Star