Gambling Insider and Owain Flanders caught up with FSI - Fantasy Sports Interactive's CEO, Dennis Tsalikis, to discuss the future of Fantasy Sports, the potential of gaming and betting fusion in the gambling industry ahead of the new decade, and how FSI developed the original Fixed-Odds-Fantasy Suite.
"You have worked at Fantasy Sports Interactive for almost three years now, and before that at Bet4theBest. Is fantasy sport something you have always had an interest in?
I became familiar with fantasy sports back in 2006. I remember when I was working in Vertu we used to play fantasy together. It was a great way to get familiar with my other colleagues – we used to discuss our teams on Monday and the “loser” in the league would buy the drinks that evening. To be honest I always thought it was great as a social game.
As I became more and more familiar with fantasy sports I started seeing that most of the people were spending 7-8 hours a week looking at data and statistics to create their team. In those days we were competing just purely for bragging rights but I thought: “why can’t this be the next step of the betting market?”
How did the idea for starting FSI first come about?
I started the company with Bill Mexias who had similar experience and thoughts about fantasy sports. We wanted to combine our skill set and make a social gaming product for the Greek market, but this concept evolved and we started considering turning fantasy to a betting product - mainly because we saw no real innovation in the betting market after 2005 and the rise of in-play betting and cashout. That’s how we gradually developed the idea of our exclusive fantasy sportsbook product, Fixed-Odds-Fantasy.
It’s a product able to attract various demographics for operators because it combines gaming and betting. It offers an alternative form of betting. It can be the next step for people who love spending time on their fantasy team but want to be able to win a bit of money out of it as well. While designing the company’s products we had the mature European market in mind, and we decided to combine betting with fantasy sports to provide an original alternative to traditional betting. We thought that players deserve to win money, considering the effort and skill they invest in fantasy sports. We wanted our company to provide fantasy managers and bettors the opportunity to make a profit, but also enjoy the social aspect of fantasy - which is what attracted me to it in the first place.
How have you found your time as CEO so far?
To be honest, it has been pretty challenging. In my experience, betting is one of the most difficult areas of business because of the competitive nature of the industry. It is difficult to introduce a new product in the market; but watching your start-up to scale up, your work family to grow and your business gaining exposure after earnest efforts and team work, is the most rewarding experience.
What would you say are some of your proudest achievements with FSI?
I think a great achievement for us is securing the Gauselmann Group as one of our clients. Also, the pilot that we are running in Greece with OPAP. We now offer our new fixed-odds-fantasy solution in over 4,000 retail stores through fixed odds betting terminals and on pen-and-paper. The biggest achievement for us is that we are the first B2B fantasy software provider to offer our products to retail shops and we do this with a customer who is a member of the World Lottery Association; it’s a Tier 1 client with over $5bn in revenues each year.
How has the fantasy sports vertical evolved in the years you have been involved with it?
In recent years, fantasy sports had a lot more exposure because of the US format of Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) and the latest developments that operators are looking at after the PASPA repeal. There is a big discussion around fantasy sports now because of their diversity. Fantasy is a great offering, but it became apparent that to appeal to as many customers as possible, it needs to move on to the next level and operate with fixed odds and betting solutions. Mature markets in Europe and the freshly-regulated U.S market pointed out that there is a need for access to fantasy sports through both retail shops and online, and to do this you need odds-based solutions. Operators understand a fixed odds solution better, because most of them have traders and risk management teams. Also, it appeals to bettors’ mentality. Over the last 3 years or so betting markets have progressed, moving on to under-over formats, so this is how we thought to develop an offering where a single bet can set up around certain players and a specified amount of performance points as line. I have been constantly considering the evolution of fantasy sports next to how betting verticals can take the industry to the next level, and to be honest I’m confident that in the next three years fantasy sportsbook can become a stand-alone product.
Which sports do you find are the most popular?
The sport depends on the country in which you’re operating, so for example in Europe soccer is the most popular, whereas if you look to the US it is basketball and American football. The best occasion for an operator in general, especially for the fantasy sports markets, is a big event, like the FIFA World Cup or the finals of the NBA. These events attract a lot more attention from customers and they are ideal for fan engagement.
Is the US a major target for FSI as more states legalise sports betting?
We have received a lot of feedback from potential U.S clients we are in advanced talks with, and from what I’ve gathered I am confident that there is a need in the market for a fixed-odds-solution. We would not target the US with the mentality to compete with FanDuel and DraftKings in Daily Fantasy, because they have the highest player liquidity in the market so no one can compete with them. The thing about FSI is that we can provide a product for any company and even smaller clients so they can offer fantasy sports without having to compete with the DFS giants. On this basis, I’m very confident that our Fixed-Odds-Fantasy suite is going to gain great traction in the US.
Now 2019 is coming to a close, what is the absolute focus for 2020; are there any big deals on the horizon?
We had a great 2019 with important partnerships and internal growth. We recently announced our partnership with Amelco and we will soon launch in South Africa through our collaboration with Betting Entertainment Technologies. We will launch Fixed-Odds-Fantasy with one of their top customers and successful operators in SA, Hollywoodbets.
We have two big deals that we will be ready to announce in the next few months. One of them is a member of the World Lottery Association in Europe and the other is a U.S client. Both will give us a big boost as a company alongside our previous partnerships, because they will allow us to offer more sports and betting markets through our Fixed-Odds-Fantasy suite. We are the only company offering a product based on an A.I framework and hands-on experience, and we are focusing on getting more exposure to promote it accordingly".
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