Why ESPN is running back-to-back DraftKings and FanDuel ads

September 22, 2015, 6:24 PM UTC
Photographs by Reuters

If you’ve watched any football games this month—any at all, even for a few minutes—you almost surely saw a DraftKings advertisement, or a FanDuel advertisement, or both.

The two companies, which are both privately-held billion-dollar tech “unicorns,” are aggressively buying up advertising in order to get their names out there. Perhaps even too aggressively: many football fans noticed the onslaught and took to Twitter to complain. DraftKings and FanDuel are certainly getting noticed, but they also run the risk of alienating potential new users.

DraftKings spent $20 million on ads just during Week One of the new NFL season, according to iSpot.tv, which is tracking the ad-spending closely. That made it the single biggest advertiser on all of television that week. (That’s a remarkable stat, considering DraftKings is a three-year-old startup.) FanDuel was the eighth-largest that week. From August 1 to September 15, DraftKings spent $80 million on advertising; FanDuel spent $20 million.

The advertisements are everywhere: CBS, NBC, Fox, and ESPN. And they aren’t just during football games. And they aren’t just on TV—if you live in Boston, you might have noticed the whole city is basically plastered in DraftKings signage (the company is headquartered there). Boston’s South Station, which sells advertisements as a full-station sponsorship, has looked like DraftKings Central for the past few weeks.

Some channels have even aired an ad for one immediately after an ad for the other. That looks especially awkward on ESPN, considering DraftKings’ much-ballyhooed new exclusive partnership deal with the “worldwide leader in sports.” If DraftKings has an exclusive ESPN deal, why are you still seeing FanDuel ads on the network? The answer: the “exclusivity” part doesn’t kick in until January.

That means football fans who watch ESPN regularly still have a long four months—ironically, pretty much the entire regular season—of seeing ads for both services.

The clash was especially, starkly apparent on a recent Monday afternoon, when ESPN aired three of its daytime football talk shows in a row: NFL Primetime, NFL Insiders, and then NFL Live. The first was sponsored by DraftKings, the second was sponsored by FanDuel, the third was sponsored by DraftKings. The sports media blog Awful Announcing wrote that the ESPN program NFL Sunday Insiders last week, “was basically a DraftKings infomercial disguised as a pregame show.”

Is it all a little too much? Not if you ask Adam Krejcik, a partner at Eilers Research, which tracks the fantasy sports industry. “Look, it was an insane amount of advertising,” he says. “But the caveat I would provide that no one seems to be talking about is that there’s something to be said about, ‘No publicity is bad publicity.’ They are a trending topic right now, they are attracting mindshare, they are everywhere on social media, they are going viral. So, yes, there is potential to alienate people, but they’re thinking, ‘This is our most useful channel right now.'”

For more, read our October 1, 2015 cover story on Robins and DraftKings: This man is blowing up fantasy sports

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