While the American sports betting landscape isn’t exactly Pure Polly Purebred being held hostage by Riff Raff, it is also fair to say there have been plenty of bumps in the road.
Perhaps Underdog Fantasy, then, will be here to save the day.
Buried in the second-to-last paragraph of a news release announcing the hiring of Stacie Stern as vice president of government affairs and sponsorship, the company dropped this nugget: “Underdog will be launching an innovative sportsbook in multiple markets over the coming months.”
While Underdog had previously announced the company would be entering the sports betting industry, this is the first instance of any time frame being attached to the news. Of course, the word “innovative” stands out here, as — outside of PointsBet’s pointsbetting feature and single game parlays taking off like a rocket — the world of mobile sportsbooks has been pretty staid for some time now.
So, what’s new?
“I don’t know if it will be version one, but certainly it will be a different sportsbook experience than you might be used to,” said Nick Rudman, Underdog’s general manager of fantasy. “The whole ethos of the company is we don’t compete at the same thing as everybody else. We’re not going to spend the same amount of marketing dollars, we’re not going to have the same kinds of promotions. Obviously, you’ll be able to bet spreads and over/unders and all the classic stuff, but where we spend our time and energy might be elsewhere.”
Underdog’s founder and executive chairman/president, Jeremy Levine, told US Bets that the sportsbook will not just be a “traditional sportsbook; we’re building a full suite of betting games and products.”
This is not some willy-nilly foray into the sports betting world. In an interview with Sports Handle last year, Levine said the plan, from the jump, was to get into the sports betting space. But he wasn’t expecting to be in it so soon — as soon, possibly, as Q3 this year.
“Things have gone faster in the beginning than we expected,” Levine said last year.
Best Ball Mania III booms out of the gate
Also going faster than expected: the rise of best ball fantasy football, of which Underdog is the clear market leader.
A few weeks ago, the company launched the biggest best ball tournament to-date, the $10 million Best Ball Mania III, which will feature three millionaires being minted: $2 million to the winner of the tournament, $1 million to the runner-up, and another $1 million to whichever entry has the most points in the 14-week regular season for best ball.
Not only is this the biggest best ball tournament in the world, it’s also the biggest daily fantasy tournament in the “modern” era, when operators, due to state regulations, have been forced to limit each person to 150 entries. The tournament — which costs $25 to enter and is limited to 451,000 entrants — is probably the biggest it’s ever going to get, according to Rudman.
Contingent Based Drafting is the nuts for best ball tournaments. I talked through it with examples.
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— Hayden Winks (@HaydenWinks) May 23, 2022
“These contests can only get so big,” he said. “It’s not like next year we can do $25 million. It’s a real challenge of the format to get much bigger than we are now. It becomes so impossible to win, or the groups get too big, where you can’t draft in groups of 12. To go much bigger, you’d have to get pretty radical with the format. I don’t think bigger is always better, but I do think $10 million is a great size and being able to make three millionaires is cool. I’m glad we did it. But yeah, this is about as big as it gets.”
Interest in the format is booming. Rudman said the first Best Ball Mania tournament had 34,000 entries in total. This year, there are already over 37,000 entries – and it’s not even June yet.
“Last year, we tried to normalize drafting earlier,” Rudman said. “And last year’s winner drafted his team in June. A lot of data shows drafting in August gives you a better floor, but the ceiling may be higher earlier. People are definitely drafting now.”