Andy McGeady: European Tour hitch wagon to Daily Fantasy Sports

European Tour goes where PGA Tour perhaps surprisingly has not

The European Tour have announced a multi-year partnership with Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) operator PlayON. Photograph: Getty

The European Tour have announced a multi-year partnership with Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) operator PlayON. Photograph: Getty

 

Ahead of this week’s Irish Open at the K Club the European Tour became the latest sports body to hitch its wagon to Daily Fantasy Sports, announcing a multi-year partnership with Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) operator PlayON. Whether viewed as game or gambling DFS is certainly a growth area. But why does the European Tour have such a partnership while the PGA Tour does not?

The European Tour is hopeful its DFS partnership will promote fan engagement. Rufus Hack, European Tour Head of Media, Digital and Strategy, said the generally younger demographic of DFS will help the tour’s engagement with that market segment oft referred to by marketing types as “millennials”. Rather than a season-long commitment, PlayON’s DFS golf offering permits fans to enter teams of seven players per tournament round, competing for free or for cash prizes.

From the provider’s point of view “the reasons for entering these partnerships are distribution and licensing of intellectual property” said PlayON founder, Irishman Killian Jones. Securing the partnership permits them to use official tour logos and player imagery, as well as benefiting from the European Tour’s existing marketing channels. As initial examples of this PlayON’s website now sports the European Tour’s logo while the European Tour’s website now has a Daily Fantasy section directing fans to PlayON’s offering of both free and real-money games.

Putting money and sporting results together means that a focus on integrity will never be far away. The European Tour and PlayON are comfortable with DFS in that regard. Hack told the Irish Times that DFS “is a very safe way of engaging and enhancing the fan experience”, stressing that DFS relies on teams of seven players, not a single player, as well as winning being based on positive outcomes, not negative.

The European Tour’s Integrity Programme and PlayON’s Terms and Conditions restrict Tour players from participating in DFS games with a list of associated staff who are under similar restriction. This is broadly similar to the stance taken by the major American sports leagues where the NBA, NHL and MLB “prohibit players and certain team/league personnel from participating in cash-based daily fantasy leagues and the NFL does not allow its players, coaches, or executives to win more than $250 in fantasy contests”, as stated by Florida State University sports law professor Ryan Rodenberg to a US Congressional Hearing on DFS held last week.

With regard to restricting Tour pros from playing the games Hack said “it was cleaner for us as an organisation to be whiter than white, so we put in something that said we understand that there’s very limited downside here but let’s just have a clean statement that says neither players nor their entourage can play free or paid games.” Jones has a similar perspective, with his PlayON staff not permitted to participate in any DFS game from any operator. “PlayON always operates in a clear, transparent and responsible manner, going beyond regulatory requirements in many instances” said Jones.

Perhaps odd to see the European Tour with a DFS partnership while in the US - the motherlode of DFS markets - the PGA Tour goes without. At the US federal and state levels the legal position of DFS ultimately remains unclear, although that can depend on who might be offering that legal view. “We are still a ways away from this being settled, simply because no court has ruled whether this is a form of gambling or not and until a court does that you’re going to be able to argue both sides of it.” said David Purdum, who covers sports betting and DFS for sports giant ESPN.

Golf’s position relating to DFS is more unclear still. The carve-out within US law relied upon by DFS providers sets out a number of conditions for a product being deemed to be fantasy sports and not sports betting. One condition stipulates that it must be dependent on multiple real world sporting events. A golf tournament is obviously a sporting event. But could each tournament’s round be in itself a sporting event? Each round by each individual player? Interpreting this involves dancing on the head of a pin, and US industry leaders DraftKings and FanDuel have taken different paths with the latter (founded by Tyrone man Nigel Eccles) choosing to stay away from the golf market.

In Ireland and the UK we have different mores, and laws, and the point is moot. PlayON is licensed in both territories, along with Australia. “When we initially set up the company we made the decision to only operate in regulated markets and while that means that we may have been slower out of the blocks we certainly think it’s the strategy that will serve us well over the long term” said Jones.

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