Every week, it seems — and occasionally, seemingly every day — there is another announcement about a partnership between a gaming company and a major pro sports league.
But a deal unveiled on Thursday had a new wrinkle: Daily fantasy sports company Monkey Knife Fight has signed a multi-year agreement with not the NFL, but the NFL Players Association.
Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson and Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson participated in a conference call with the media along with MKF CEO Bill Asher to provide the details.
“It’s good for the players to be part of something like this, where we have some type of ownership,” Watson said. “We grew up with fantasy sports, and the players have been looking for an opportunity like this. Daily fantasy sports, in particular, is a booming new business.”
NFL Executive Director DeMaurice Smith, who also was on the call, noted that “the players are the real stars.”
“This is where the players should be, at the forefront of engagement,” Smith added. “What happens is dependent on what players do on the field.”
A players-first approach
Smith referred to the 1980s launch of the Madden football video games as an asset to the union and said, “Once again players are central partners. This is the right evolution for our union.”
A traditional sports bettor who has the Houston Texans against a point spread doesn’t just have Watson in mind. The Texans’ defense and special teams also are a point of rooting interest for the wager.
But in MKF’s world, fans invest money estimating if a player such as Watson will go “over and under” a particular passing yards projection. So individual players, not the team, are the driving force in DFS.
Asher predicted this would be the first of many deals with league unions.
“If you’re going to make a profit, you have to share it with the players,” Asher said.
“Daily fantasy sports is a huge industry in this world, and I’m definitely excited to be a part of it,” Peterson said.
Asher said he foresees NFL players being involved in “designing products, promoting products, talking to fans. That’s going to differentiate us from the competition.”
Move over, FanDuel and DraftKings?
MKF is aiming to carve out a third major place in DFS space that is dominated so far by DraftKings and FanDuel, competitors that Asher says require “complicated” efforts to build a lineup within a salary cap, only to have that lineup go head-to-head against professional DFS players who capture nearly all of the available prize money.
Asher said he is meeting “yesterday” and “tomorrow” with venture capital firms that are interested in a stake in MKF.
“This is the perfect timing for this partnership,” said Ahmad Nassar, CEO of the OneTeam Partners joint venture of the NFLPA and its MLB counterpart. The venture was created to help athletes maximize the value of their name, image, and likeness rights.
“Professional athletes have historically been under-leveraged by DFS companies despite athletes being the predicate for these games’ existence,” Nassar added.
MKF also has partnerships with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Miami Dolphins in the NFL as well as a number of other pro sports franchises.