A change in DraftKings could be part of the daily evolution of Fantasy Sports

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[toc]DraftKings made a small change that affects its users this week. This small change, however, points to an idea that could gain popularity as the daily fantastic sports the industry is advancing.

What DraftKings did

For people who don’t follow the DFS industry closely, switching from DraftKings may not seem like a big deal. Here is the background:

DraftKings has a feature on its platform called “Late exchange”. The idea behind? Users compose their Fantastic Squad before all of the games covered by a DFS contest start. However, the late trade feature allows users to swap their fantastic players for games that start later in the contest.

For example, in an NFL contest, games typically start around 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. EST. A late exchange would allow daily fantasy football users to switch players in the 4pm games, if there is any news of injury after the start of the underlying DFS competition but before the start of subsequent games.

So what did DraftKings do? He eliminated the late trade for one sport: the NBA. Here’s how the DFS operator explained the move:

All roster selections will be locked at the start of the contest (i.e. you will not be able to swap players after the contest is locked). This change will allow our customers to enjoy the games and follow their teams rather than watching the latest news leading up to the announcement of each game.

The change was only instituted for NBA contests; in the NBA, the starting eleven are not always known in advance.

In change, good and bad

Opinions on the change ran the gamut.

On the one hand, the late trade feature is one of the only things that differentiates DraftKings NBA contests from competitors. FanDuel. This removes the ability for the user to modify a schedule after the start of a contest, which was never available at FanDuel.

On the flip side, getting rid of the late swap makes the underlying contest easier – or at least less of a potential time investment – for the user. Namely, from a representative of DraftKings:

It conjures up the idea that the best – or the most invested DFS players – will constantly monitor developments during the period between 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. EST. By removing this capability from the equation, users no longer have to constantly check their queues and make changes. Everyone sits down and watches the matches after the contest starts.

The DFS industry constantly tells us that gaming is fun first and foremost. And while finding and discovering benefits through a feature like Late Trade is undoubtedly classified as “fun” for some die-hard DFS gamers, this is certainly not consistent with creating a product more attractive to a wider audience.

The occasional player – both who already plays DraftKings or who DFS operators would like to attract – probably wants to set up some lineup for a contest and see how that goes. While the late exchange encourages increased engagement with the DraftKings platform, it’s not the type of engagement that can necessarily be characterized as positive.

Daily version of fantasy sports is already asking users to come back day after day to establish new queues. Increasing that casual player’s time investment, in the form of a late trade available to the NBA, is a big demand.

Change is good for the DFS industry

While the change made here by DraftKings is relatively small in the grand scheme of things, it speaks of a larger problem in the DFS industry.

The DFS product offered by FanDuel and DraftKings has not changed or iterated significantly in recent years. I am sure the industry and some observers would disagree with this opinion; and yes, there have been changes, some made by regulation. Also this year, the two sites aim to create a more social experience that can be worn over the course of a season. (Learn more about these efforts here and here.)

But changes to the underlying contests are often made incrementally, such as the late swap change described above. Basically, DFS ‘salary cap model persists at the “big two” level and hasn’t changed much since day one.

In order for the DFS industry to grow and be a viable product in the future, it seems clear that it needs to adapt. Making the game easier and more accessible to the casual gamer should probably be part of the process.

We’ve seen DraftKings and FanDuel spend hundreds of millions of dollars in advertising and marketing in 2015. And while the number of users and revenues may increase year over year, the metrics should have been even higher given these expenses. (Yes, there are mitigating factors surrounding the growth of the industry, including legal issues in various states, the poor public relations that followed the DraftKings data leak, and an increased focus on lobbying efforts.)

Simplifying DFS contests – or maybe even creating new DFS products under one umbrella – would seem like a worthwhile effort to create a more user-friendly experience.

To date, the DFS industry has embraced the idea that this is a “skill game” to avoid problems under state gambling laws. But it’s a battle he’s shown he’s increasingly capable of winning in state legislatures. Lawmakers in various states have come forward with bills that say DFS can be defined as “no gambling,” regardless of the skill actually employed for the underlying contest.

Make DFS easier to play – or, in another way, reduce the emphasis on skills, time investment, research, etc. And DraftKings’ small change on its late swap offering is a small example of how this can be accomplished.

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