By Peter Gleason
Anyone who watched even a quarter of any of last weekend’s NFL season-opening games on TV was deluged by commercials for:
DraftKings and DanDuel!
The two fantasy football gambling companies have unleashed aggressive promotional campaigns costing millions of dollars in recent weeks in hopes of gaining supremacy in a surging pastime that, so far, stands on the permissible side of sports gambling, even as it has come under government scrutiny.
So high are the potential financial rewards that the companies have found eager partners in NFL. teams, even as the league remains a staunch opponent of sports betting.
This week, DraftKings.com announced wide-ranging sponsorships with 12 NFL teams, nearly matching its fiercest competitor, FanDuel.com, which already had deals with 16 of the league’s 32 teams.
Both companies are valued at more than $1 billion, and they combined to spend more than $27 million for about 8,000 television spots in the opening week of the NFL season, according to data fromiSpot.tv, which measures national TV ads.
Officially, executives at the NFL have a long-held position against sports gambling and have kept a distance from the daily fantasy sites, even preventing Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo and other current players from participating in a fantasy sports convention this summer because it was held at a casino in Las Vegas.
The league’s leadership, however, has done nothing to stop individual teams from diving in, and two powerful NFL owners — Jerry Jones of the Cowboys and Robert K. Kraft of the New England Patriots — have stakes in DraftKings.
Fantasy football operates under an exemption to a 2006 federal law that prohibited games like online poker but permitted fantasy play, under lobbying from professional sports leagues. The games are legal in all but five states.
Season-long fantasy games, in which fans pick players and track them over a year, have passed muster with the NFL because they are usually set up among friends who administer their own prize money, the way an office pool does.
But daily fantasy games may be pushing the boundaries of the exemption. Fans pay entry fees to a website — anywhere from 25 cents to $1,000 — to assemble rosters of real football players, with multimillion-dollar prize pools that can pay $2 million to the winner.
FanDuel says it pays out $75 million a week and $2 billion in a year.
Daily fantasy games, with their promises of big payouts — some commercials show fans accepting million-dollar checks — have led critics to describe them as de facto gambling and to call the NFL’s stance hypocritical.