Fantasy sports startup DraftKings, which announced a $1.4 million seed round led by Atlas Ventures in July, is moving into mobile with a new app for Android and iOS called Big Baller, which, like the DraftKings website before it, is designed to help fantasy sports players get up and running quickly and engage on their own schedule. The app is also a completely separate experience from the website (hence the different name), and DraftKings CEO and co-founder Jason Robins says that’s by design.
“We thought we could just go ahead and duplicate the same content as the website, but we felt the use case is very different,” he said. “If you look at the way people tend to play games on mobile, they tend to have much shorter interaction periods, there’s a lot of social elements to it. So we wanted to take the same idea of games built around sports, stats and fantasy and make an even simpler and more mobile experience.”
To that end, the team created Big Baller around the idea of quick play that’s easy to jump in and out of at a moment’s notice. It’s not as in-depth in terms of research requirements, it contains features like levelling up, and it’s designed around challenging maybe a single friend or a computer player instead of requiring that a whole group get together and run a pool. In some ways, Big Baller feels more like social games coming from Zynga than it does traditional fantasy sports play, but Robins says that’s where gaming in general is headed, so his team saw an opportunity to capitalize on the popularity of fantasy athletics while also keeping a finger on those seeking true mobile experiences.
On the web, DraftKings offers players real pay-outs for playing, offering prizes for players who pay entry fees to join. On mobile, the model is different, just like the style of play, and instead users get virtual currency with which to make wagers on games. If they need more, they can get it via in-app purchase. While that’s one revenue stream, Robins also says that future additions to the product could bring in-line advertising, and while the mobile and web site products will remain separate, he believes there’s opportunity in acquiring users on Big Ballers and then being able to cross-sell them to DraftKings for added user growth.
As for the competition, Robins believes that his company is bringing something different to the table, both on the web and on mobile, owing to the more casual nature of its play. He also points out that while companies like Yahoo offer fantasy sports mobile applications, these aren’t designed as standalone products; instead, they act as companions to web-based products, and thus don’t offer users a full experience on their own.
The Fantasy Sports Trade Association (which partners with Ipsos for market size research) puts the estimated size of the fantasy sports market in the U.S. in 2012 at 35 million Americans, and the estimated cash value of that market is somewhere in the $1 billion range. DraftKings is taking an approach that differs considerably from existing players like ESPN and Yahoo, however, with the ability to jump in and play for a single game, or even once a game has already started with Big Ballers, which is blasphemy to the fantasy sports traditionalist. Whether that gamble will result in a bigger market share by attracting people new to the genre, or a smaller one by alienating fantasy sports devotees remains to be seen.