How an unknown fantasy sports app landed Tom Brady

December 5, 2014, 4:00 PM UTC
Courtesy of TopLine Game Labs

“Telemarketing’s a cool job,” says Tom Brady.

No, the New England Patriots quarterback and three-time Super Bowl champion isn’t changing careers. The line comes from a funny new commercial that hit the Web on Wednesday and quickly went viral, making the rounds on sports blogs and major news sites alike.

The ad is for DailyMVP, a little-known fantasy sports app that launched one year ago, and was not active for a full football season until this year. In the 30-second video, Brady, sitting at a cubicle with headset on, raves that DailyMVP is, “the super-awesome way to play fantasy sports every day. Just build your team, challenge your buddies, and boom shakalaka.”

In the business of fantasy sports, the incumbent giants are Yahoo, ESPN, and CBS, among others. They offer season-long fantasy sports drafts, for free or for money. But separate from those are two dueling rivals that offer daily fantasy (as an alternative to the season-long model): DraftKings and FanDuel. Both have a few hundred thousand users, have signed partnerships with some of the major sports leagues, and have been advertising aggressively—you might have noticed television ads for each if you watched college football games over the Thanksgiving holiday.

So how did DailyMVP, a relative unknown in comparison to the big two in the daily fantasy space, manage to woo Tom Brady as an endorser? The quarterback is notoriously choosy about sponsorships; while peers like Peyton Manning and Drew Brees are all over the television, hawking products like DirecTV, Buick and Gatorade (Manning) and Wrangler, Dove, and Vicks VapoRub (Brees), Brady is mostly invisible in marketing campaigns. In the past, he has endorsed Under Armour, UGG for Men, and UNREAL candy—and that’s about it.

Indeed, David Geller, CEO of TopLine Game Labs, which created the DailyMVP game, says it was no easy sell. “He does not make decisions lightly,” Geller tells Fortune. “We were in discussions with him for a very long time before he finally agreed to represent the DailyMVP brand.” DailyMVP first reached out to Brady over the summer, recruiting him as part of the conceit of having athletes that have been actual MVPs in its ads. (The other is basketball star Steve Nash; in his ad, he wears a wig and plays a librarian—it is equally funny, but Brady is a much bigger score. The ad with Nash, which came out in October, has 63,000 views. The Brady video, two days old, has 400,000.)

When approached, Brady had specific requirements and hesitations. “With Tom, he had to be comfortable with the product but also with the quality of the team—he wanted to make sure that we weren’t just three guys in a garage trying to rope him in,” says Geller, who certainly has the fantasy cred: he headed up Yahoo’s fantasy sports division before leaving to create TopLine, and some of his engineers also come from Yahoo.

It was also important to Brady, says Geller, that, “the games were accessible to everybody, and casual in nature, not games for hardcore gambling-type guys.”

That is the premise DailyMVP is banking on: that while DraftKings and FanDuel are more suited to the super-serious fantasy sports whiz who sets up spreadsheets, examines data, and does homework, the casual fan who just wants to jump in for fun needs a product, too. DailyMVP seeks to be fast to set up (“we want someone standing in line at Starbucks to be able to draft before they reach the front of the line,” says Geller), stress-free, and fun, if not necessarily lucrative.

This is the next frontier in the fantasy sports market: mobile-first products that seek to attract the less hardcore, more lax sports enthusiast to fantasy. But Geller says TopLine has plans beyond sports: its technology can be used to create a quick, one-day fantasy games around anything from reality television to awards shows. And it plans to roll out such games as soon as they find appropriate brands to partner up with on them, as the company did with Sports Illustrated (which is owned by Time Inc., as is Fortune) to power its Fan Nation fantasy app. While DailyMVP is the first brand from TopLine (and currently offers football, baseball, basketball and hockey), “we could put out a fantasy-style game tomorrow for watching Keeping Up with The Kardashians,” Geller says. “The categories we’ve identified are sports, entertainment, and finance, and there are a lot of games that could be built on our platform that require very little incremental development. We could very easily have a game for the WWE, or for an awards show.”

For now, the Nash and Brady videos haven’t even aired on television, and may not. They are online-only, and apart from the two videos, Geller says, “we frankly haven’t done anything in terms of marketing.” Perhaps the videos were enough, for now, to gin up interest in the app. (Recall how a single funny, viral video put Dollar Shave Club on the map.) And while TopLine would not disclose details of the endorsement deals, there is a strong likelihood that both Nash and Brady got small equity stakes in the company, as is increasingly the case in deals between athletes and startups these days.

Geller says there will be more marketing done with Brady in 2015, after the football season is over. And as for landing that rare endorser, he added, “it helped that we’re both University of Michigan guys.”