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DraftKings boosts staff, branches into sports news

DraftKings founders (from left) Paul Liberman, Jason Robins, and Matt Kalish.
DraftKings founders (from left) Paul Liberman, Jason Robins, and Matt Kalish.Jon Chomitz Photography

In a time of media turmoil, at least one Boston newsroom is expanding rapidly, and it does not even belong to a media company.

Playbook, the sports information website launched late last year by fantasy gaming company DraftKings Inc., has grown from a staff of two to a team of 25 in just six months. It now churns out a steady stream of online posts offering the kind of fantasy advice that DraftKings users have traditionally sought from the likes of ESPN and Rotoworld.

It also features other sports-related entertainment that resembles the chatty style of Buzzfeed. Recent headlines have included "Bro Does Crazy Trickshot Putts One Handed" and "JJ Watt + Arnold Schwarzenegger = Hasta la Impression Time Baby."

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For DraftKings, a 3-year-old Boston company whose private market value is roughly $900 million, the foray into media has at least two objectives. Cofounder Matthew Kalish said he is hoping sports fans hunting for news will stumble on Playbook stories in their Google searches, then join the more than 1 million people who pay to play fantasy football, baseball, and other sports with DraftKings.

Fantasy contests involve forming imaginary rosters of real athletes — picking a quarterback from Dallas and a receiver from Buffalo, for example — and collecting points based on how those players perform in actual games. Contests with cash prizes typically require entry fees. DraftKings collected $304 million in fees last year, a sevenfold increase over 2013.

Another goal is to hold the attention of existing users — who already spend an average of four to five hours per week on the DraftKings website and may spend even more money if they stay longer.

The strategy appears to be working. Since a redesign in March, average page views per visit have increased 52 percent and time on the site is up 152 percent, according to the company.

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"Our players want and need this content anyway, so why shouldn't they expect it from us?" Kalish said.

Playbook is yet another example of a sports business attempting to grab a slice of the media coverage that surrounds it. Since 2003, all four major sports leagues have started round-the-clock cable channels, for example. They also have their own news sites staffed with reporters dedicated to teams.

DraftKings' biggest rival, FanDuel Inc., has also entered the media game with a fantasy-focused news and commentary site called FanDuel Insider.

Both companies appear determined to cement a role in satisfying sports fans' ravenous appetite for info and commentary, according to analysts.

Andy Billings, who has studied the fantasy sports industry as chairman of broadcasting at the University of Alabama, said his research shows people who play fantasy games consume three times as much sports media as other fans.

And with the number of fantasy players in the United States and Canada doubling between 2007 and 2014 — up to 41.5 million, according to the Fantasy Sports Trade Association — the incentive for DraftKings to add content to its site is greater than ever.

"They are trying to establish themselves as a brand that goes beyond fantasy," said Billings. "They want to be a place for one-stop shopping for the sports fan."

There could be another mission, too.

DraftKings and FanDuel compete in an emerging sector offantasy sports known as daily fantasy sports.

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While standard fantasy sports contests last an entire season, requiring players to spend months role-playing as general managers, daily fantasy sports contests generally last a single day. In football they can stretch over a full weekend of games.

The duration of contests is a key point in an ongoing debate over whether daily fantasy sports should enjoy the same exemptions to antigambling laws as standard fantasy sports, which are widely considered to be games of skill, not chance, because of the many managerial decisions players must make over the course of a season.

Critics of daily fantasy contests argue they are more akin to illegal sports betting because the outcomes hinge on how athletes fare in single games. Last month, for example, California Gambling Control commissioner Richard Schuetz wrote in an op-ed in the Global Gaming Business News that daily fantasy sports are "operating in a space that certainly approaches the definition of being a gambling activity in many jurisdictions."

"At some level, I am waiting for someone to spring forward with the charge, 'You're busted,' " Schuetz wrote.

With some regulators casting skeptical eyes on the daily fantasy business model, it is wise for DraftKings to add the sort of news and analysis found on sites that run standard — and less controversial — contests, said Marc Edelman, a sports and gaming law specialist at Baruch College in New York.

"By offering articles related to daily fantasy sports and other content, DraftKings takes a step toward making their site look aesthetically more like CBS, ESPN, and Yahoo, and less like the sports books," Edelman said.

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DraftKings may even hold certain advantages over those larger outlets, said Rick Burton, professor of sport management at Syracuse University. Unlike them, DraftKings does not purport to be a journalistic outfit; unburdened by the obligation to report what people need to know, it can devote all its energy to what people want to know — and then watch the Web traffic roll in.

"They're going to make bank," Burton said.


Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.