DraftKings Ads Are Hijacking Your Football Season, and There’s Nothing You Can Do About It

The ubiquitous daily fantasy sports site is smothering sports fans with its advertising onslaught.


The people who have been shown most often on TV so far this NFL season aren’t football stars, but rather those bros jumping around with $1 million checks from DraftKings.

Or maybe the honor goes to the bearded dude who taps the picture of the footballs for good luck before he sets his fantasy lineup in bed. (Ladies, I bet he’s single!)

Daily fantasy sports giants FanDuel and DraftKings spent a combined $31 million for more than 9,000 TV spots during NFL’s kickoff weekend, according to the advertising tracking firm iSpot.tv. The onslaught of commercials continued during Thursday night’s contest between the Broncos and Chiefs.

The daily fantasy sports industry may only be six years old, but it’s exploding at an extraordinary pace. FanDuel and DraftKings are both valued at over $1 billion, fresh off wildly successful rounds of funding. DraftKings, headquartered in Boston’s Post Office Square, raised $300 million this summer, while FanDuel raised $275 million.

More than 57 million people in the United States and Canada participated in fantasy sports this year, according to research conducted by global marketing research firm Ipsos. DraftKings and FanDuel, which allow users to select different teams and play for cash prizes on a daily basis, are looking to take a big bite of the market. And they have the ad money to spend.

“Football season remains the most popular time of year for DraftKings, so we made a concentrated effort to increase our visibility on Week 1 via all media platforms,” Janet Holian, DraftKings’ CMO, tells Boston magazine.

So far, the advertising blitz appears to be working. DraftKings says 1 million new customers have joined this month alone, increasing its customer base to 4.5 million people.

But not everybody is buying in. Digiday reports 76 percent of ads for FanDuel and 75 percent of ads for DraftKings last weekend were received negatively. Boston University advertising professor Christopher Cakebread says that’s because the spots are largely unimaginative.

“They need a mixture of creative execution,” Cakebread says. “Running that same ‘bro ad’ with those knuckleheads jumping around is beyond stupid. It’s the same message with nothing interesting and nothing new over and over again. The wear out is just so inevitable.”

But DraftKings doesn’t seem to be worried about alienating potential customers. Holian says the startup is “pleased” with the results of its Week 1 campaign. “The goal was to bring more fans to the site, and that has happened in a big way,” she says.

This football season could prove a watershed moment for the fledgling daily fantasy sports industry. Companies have operated without much governmental interference, but that could soon change. State Attorney General Maura Healey said this week her office is reviewing DraftKings’ legality, and Congressman Frank Pallone, Jr. of New Jersey is asking his colleagues do the same. In fact, Pallone cites the inundation of FanDuel and DraftKings ads in his letter to the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Daily fantasy sports sites have been operating under a loophole in the Internet Gambling Enforcement Act of 2006, which outlaws online poker but permits fantasy play. But unlike traditional season-long fantasy sports, in which participants typically handle their own money, customers pay entry fees directly to the daily fantasy sites. FanDuel and DraftKings then hand out cash prizes, much like casinos.

DraftKings’ CEO Jason Robins told the Washington Post last winter he’s not worried about the rules changing. “It would just take a lot to reverse course right now,” he said. “It would cause such a public outcry, I just don’t see how it could happen.”

For now, the daily fantasy sports industry is legal, and in your face. In addition to its ubiquitous television and radio presence, FanDuel and DraftKings have partnerships with the major leagues and networks. MLB has a small equity investment in DraftKings, while the NBA has partial equity in FanDuel. Though neither company has been able to strike a deal with the NFL yet, DraftKings and FanDuel have deals with 28 clubs—the DraftKings Fantasy Sports Zone opened at Gillette Stadium last week.

FanDuel, the current market leader, has raised hundreds of millions from Comcast and NBC. DraftKings has tapped cash from Fox Sports, and has an exclusive marketing agreement with ESPN.

The two brands are everywhere, but Cakebread is skeptical about how long this can last. “They’re not really building a brand; they’re building greed—’Oh, if I spend money on this, I can make all kinds of dough,'” Cakebread says. “This is perfect for people who just have no common sense whatsoever.”