SBJ/August 14-20, 2017/People and Pop Culture

With merger no longer in play, DraftKings' Robins talks about site’s future


Robins is prepping the daily fantasy site for the all-important NFL season.
The last two years have been turbulent for DraftKings and the rest of the daily fantasy sports industry. After high-profile legal and legislative battles, DraftKings and FanDuel spent more than a year pursuing a merger, only to run into stiff resistance from the Federal Trade Commission. The pair recently dropped the proposed union and went their separate ways. That means trying to revive growth in an unprofitable daily fantasy business that essentially had plateaued, prepare for the all-important upcoming NFL season, and reposition the games as a means of fan engagement as opposed to strictly selling the opportunity to win money. DraftKings co-founder and CEO Jason Robins spoke with staff writer Eric Fisher last week in New York regarding the ongoing transitions in his business.

■ What are your reflections on the attempt to merge with FanDuel now that the process is over?
While certainly I wanted to do the merger and I’m not going to sit here and try to write revisionist history, there were some people at the company, on the board, that were growing ambivalent about the merger, and I think to some degree were relieved [it didn’t happen]. There’s a decent chance that we end up looking back and saying this was a good outcome and that we’re glad that it didn’t proceed and that it worked out well for us. … And while I personally wanted this, it wasn’t a no doubt, unanimous no-brainer.

■ You’re getting ready to debut a new marketing campaign that spotlights the fun aspects of daily fantasy as opposed to simply the prize aspect. How are you viewing that?
It’s more about having this properly understood. Part of that is our fault, and the way that we approached the marketing didn’t really tell the whole story and it was very one-dimensional. We’ve done a lot of research among our users, what they like about playing, what was true about DraftKings and what wasn’t. And yes, we still have some work to do on the product, but a lot of this is really just a messaging issue and a perception issue, and that takes time to change.

■ What is your current funding situation?
We raised a big chunk of money [about $100 million] during the merger process, so we’re good. We did that five or six months ago and we have plenty of cash right now. But we’re always opportunistic, and if an interesting deal is out there with an investor that would be strategically helpful, we’re open to it. But we don’t need it.

■ FanDuel recently introduced a season-long fantasy football product. Do you have any plans to do something similar?
What we’re trying to do may result in something that is seasonlong, but it may not. We try to look at people who are playing seasonlong and aren’t playing our current games, what they’re saying, and what they’re getting out of that experience. So it’s a question of what kind of product can we create to satisfy that experience. And if that leads us to launching a season-long product, then we will. But I don’t think you have to prescribe that.

■ How will you define success for DraftKings at the end of the upcoming NFL season?
Three things: First, really successful execution of all the new product initiatives we’re rolling out and getting great results there. Second, a very successful branding and marketing campaign that is effective both bringing in new customers and evolving some of the perceptions around daily fantasy that are important to address. And third, putting really good plans in place so that while the rest of the team is executing against the NFL season, we know exactly what investments we’re going to make looking forward and what key initiatives we’re going to focus on in 2018.

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