FanDuel CEO Amy Howe wants to persuade more women to participate in sports betting

A recent FanDuel ad features a character who appears often in commercials for sport-betting apps: a 20-something man staring nervously at his phone while following the final seconds of a game.

It’s an example of how sports gambling companies have largely overlooked women in their race to sign up users. Amy Howe wants to change that.

“If you look at the marketing, it’s been very male-centric,” said Howe, who was named chief executive officer of the sports-betting company FanDuel in October. “I don’t think there has been an effort to appeal to a female audience.” New York-based FanDuel is a division of Dublin’s Flutter Entertainment Plc.

While women make up almost half of U.S. sports fans, they represent less than one-third of sports bettors. As one of only a few female chief executives of a gambling company, Howe sees a growth opportunity in persuading more women to bet.

An early example of FanDuel’s outreach to women took place this fall when it hosted a fantasy football league with the Gist, a female-focused sports outlet.

The Gist promoted FanDuel’s fantasy league in its newsletter, which has about 350,000 subscribers, and in social media posts like: “Tired of never being invited to play fantasy football? We were too.” 

“We’re a safe space for people who have felt under-served and left out of sports media,” said Ellen Hyslop, one of the site’s three female co-founders. 

Modest stakes

The stakes were relatively modest: the league’s entry fee was $2, with the winner getting $2,000. But the point was to get more women comfortable with fantasy sports and with FanDuel, according to Howe.

“For some women, setting up a fantasy sports league and participating in sports betting can be intimidating,” Howe said. “This creates an environment that is safe and relatable.”

FanDuel could face challenges in its appeal to women. While sportsbooks take bets on women’s sports, their betting lines can be hard to find, according to Jaymee Messler, a co-founder of the Players’ Tribune, a sports media website. Bookmakers could also do more to educate women on the basics of sports betting.

“They need to be creating a more inclusive product across the board,” said Messler, who recently started Gaming Society, a sports betting and gaming startup for casual fans. “The interest among women is there, but the barrier to entry is high.”

Some gambling companies believe the gender gap among sports bettors is vast, a sign of how reluctant women have been to embrace a hobby that is still illegal in many states. In an investor presentation last year, Golden Nugget Online Gaming Inc. said just 5% of online sports bettors are women, compared with 51% of customers wagering in land-based casinos.

Sportsbooks also must be careful not to treat women, who range from casual to serious bettors, as a monolith, said Chris Grove, a partner at Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, an independent research firm.

“They need to think about a strategy that appeals to certain segments of the female demographic,” he said.

FanDuel helped pioneer the business of daily fantasy sports, where fans create a roster of players and compete to win money based on their team’s performance in a single day or week. 

The company has expanded into traditional sports betting, where users can wager on which NFL team will win a game, for example. Many of FanDuel’s sports wagering customers started out playing in fantasy leagues like the one it hosted with the Gist.

National expansion

Since a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down a federal ban on sports betting, 30 states now offer such wagering. FanDuel has the largest share of the U.S. market, followed by DraftKings Inc.

Before joining FanDuel, Howe was the global chief operating officer of Ticketmaster, a unit of Live Nation Entertainment Inc., where she worked on the company’s transition from paper tickets to digital passes. She was named FanDuel’s interim chief executive officer in July after Matt King left to join Fanatics Inc., a sports-merchandise retailer that’s expanding into online sports gambling.

Howe said she’s pleased with the early results of the fantasy league with the Gist, calling it a “great initial pilot.” Of the 2,000 people who entered the fantasy league, 800 signed up for FanDuel’s sportsbook and 500 placed money into an account.

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