If you’ve ever won a few bucks playing fantasy football with Tom Brady as your quarterback and wondered what the Patriots would think of your profiting from his golden arm, here’s your answer: They endorse it.
The Patriots have entered a new partnership with Boston-based DraftKings Inc., one of the country’s biggest daily fantasy sports companies, with more than 1 million registered users.
The deal is standard enough: DraftKings gets advertising space on the Patriots’ website and at Gillette Stadium via LED signs showing fantasy football scores, and will work with the team to develop Patriots-themed contests. Terms were not disclosed.
Yet the sponsorship agreement is significant, as it marks the first time an NFL franchise has consummated a business relationship with a website that lets fans plunk down money on their fantasy football skills in hopes of winning cash.
Some call it gambling — a major taboo in the sports world. But unlike wagers placed on the outcomes of real games, which are illegal in most states, fantasy sports enjoy a special exemption to the federal Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act.
Fantasy sports sites allow users to role play as general managers, creating imaginary rosters comprised of actual players. A fantasy lineup might include a quarterback from the Denver Broncos, a receiver from the Arizona Cardinals and a running back from the Seattle Seahawks. Points are awarded for on-field accomplishments in real games, such as yards gained and touchdowns scored.
“Winning outcomes reflect the relative knowledge and skill of the participants,” according to federal law; therefore staking money on fantasy sports is not considered betting in the same way as picking against the point spread.
Still, cash-based fantasy sports boil down to risking money on the athletic performances of others, and professional teams and leagues have been slow to embrace them. From the Black Sox to Pete Rose, some of the biggest scandals in sports history centered on financial winnings resulting from on-field results, and clubs have generally avoided associations with anything that gives off a whiff of sports gambling.
Lately, however, DraftKings is finding willing partners in executive offices. The fast-growing company, founded in 2012, signed a sponsorship deal with Major League Baseball before the current season.
“It hasn’t been a big issue for us,” said DraftKings chief executive Jason Robins. “If you had talked to me a year or two ago when there was a lot less awareness of fantasy sports and DraftKings, those questions would have come up.”
The Patriots declined an interview request but issued a statement from vice president Murray Kohl, who said “many of our fans in the stadium are playing daily fantasy sports, and we want to provide them with the most up-to-date information.”
Many fantasy sports contests are free, including leagues administered by the NFL. But most on DraftKings require buy-ins and offer cash payouts for picking players who perform well on the field. Last week a Tampa man won $1 million playing a $27 fantasy football game on DraftKings, and the site will pay out $1 million prizes three more times this NFL season.
More than 41 million people in the United States and Canada play fantasy sports, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.Callum Borchers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.