FSI - Fantasy Sports Interactive COO Bill Mexias speaks to iNTERGAMINGi explaining how the company innovates both in Fantasy Sports and Sports Betting, combining gaming and odds in FSI's original Fixed-Odds-Fantasy Suite, and how the company will be breaking into the US market, actively shaping the future of fantasy globally.
Is the US a major area of interest for Fantasy Sports Interactive?
Fantasy Sports Interactive – FSI has been developing original, betting-oriented fantasy sports products since 2012. The US market is made up of a large, fantasy sports-loving audience, distinctively shaped by the States’ particular legislation background, that actually fits our fantasy betting profile like a glove. As betting was largely prohibited until recently, companies like FanDuel and DraftKings introduced monetised Fantasy Sports and Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) instead, developing a thriving, profitable fantasy sports market. The plot twist came in 2018 with the Supreme Court decision overruling the federal ban of betting outside Nevada, bringing the rapid expansion of legalized sports betting - which is now offered to an eager, but inexperienced fantasy sports audience. FSI’s fantasy betting offerings and especially our Fixed-Odds-Fantasy Suite, bridge the gap between fantasy gaming and sportsbook, making betting attractive and accessible to the US punters and America a target market for us. Additionally, FSI’s Fixed-Odds-Fantasy provides a key opportunity for local operators to successfully offer fantasy sports through a unique betting product without competing directly against the DFS giants. The time for entering the biggest regulated betting market is now, as the total revenue recorded up to February 2020 reaches $1.2bn and is expected to reach $5.0bn by 2023!
How did you come up with the idea to do fantasy sports as a business?
FSI’s CEO and co-founder, Dennis Tsalikis, and I were acquainted with fantasy sports back in 2007 as an easy, fun and engaging way to socialise and bond in the workplace. This experience made us realise the business potential of fantasy sports as a natural fit for the portfolio of gaming operators, being a sports-themed skill-game with a strong audience.
In 2012, driven by our passion for fantasy sports and seeing that a similar product was not yet launched, we recruited a number of software engineers to develop our fantasy sports betting prototype. Following extensive beta testing, our platform was the first fantasy betting offering in Europe. It was launched as a proof of concept in 2015 to the UK market under the ‘Bet4theBest’ brand, accompanied by a full-scale marketing campaign that provided us with valuable insight regarding the most cost-efficient and value-generating ways to penetrate the market, while its day-to-day operation provided us with valuable hands-on experience and KPIs to transition to B2B level.
How do American players differ from that of European fantasy sports enthusiasts?
American players are more statistically inclined, focusing on in-depth statistics, detailed forecasts and mathematical fantasy points projections. Such behaviour stems from the actual scoring rules of their favourite sports and has been further cultivated by the fantasy scoring rules of the popular DFS sites. European fantasy sports players are primarily sports fans and avid supporters of their favourite teams and athletes, taking into consideration the odds and difficulty of the fixtures. Considering the need to target and attract audiences on both sides of the pond (and globally) we introduced a fusion of fantasy gaming utilizing stats-centric thinking, and sports betting odds through our original Fixed-Odds-Fantasy Suite.
What are some of the most impressive moments for your company so far?
Starting with the launch of our B2C fantasy betting platform/proof of concept in 2015, the next significant milestone was signing our initial B2B contracts in 2017, among which our collaboration with Gauselmann Group’s Cashpoint. The last couple of years we have been delighted to welcome renowned partners such as Amelco and Betting Entertainment Technologies, expanding our activity to South Africa and BLNS. The most impressive moment of our company’s history so far has been the launch of our fantasy odds-based product in retail stores in September 2019 via OPAP, the Greek Organisation of Football Prognostics and WLA member – marking the first time fantasy sports are offered in retail, globally.
Do US players have an interest in sports outside their traditional games like American football and baseball?
From our experience monitoring the market and discussing with US operators, we have learned that while American football (NFL) and baseball are the peoples favourites, basketball is equally popular, boosting fan engagement. Ice hockey comes fourth, completing the Top 4 of major professional sports leagues, while “soccer” is at fifth place, gaining traction through the popularity of the World Cup and Women’s World Cup and the influence of the LATAM audiences. After soccer we have been developing our fantasy odds feed for basketball, with NFL, ice hockey and baseball following in our product roadmap.
How has the fantasy sports vertical changed in recent years since you began the company?
Around the time we launched our proof of concept, Fantasy had already evolved from a fun pastime to the core of a massive and engaging social following, through the digitalization of the classic season-long format. This popularity and the distinctive features of the back then betting-deprived America led to the introduction of the fast-paced, pay-to-play Daily Fantasy Contests featuring enticingly high Guaranteed Cash Prizes – creating a whole new offering and demand. This trend influenced and inspired the very creation of the fantasy sports vertical worldwide. Monetised, competitive gaming and the social aspect of fantasy sports established them both as a profitable offering and means for user engagement marketing, but eventually, the industry reached a plateau and DFS reach hit a peak. This situation and the demands of the US market after sports betting legalization, is actually what led us developing a differentiated product, combining the popular and familiar fantasy sports gameplay with traditional betting – essentially taking the fantasy sports vertical to the next level. FSI’s Fixed-Odds-Fantasy Suite establishes a new genre – odds-based fantasy sports – by constructively evolving fantasy sports and introducing the only actual innovation in sportsbook since Cashout. We have already begun to successfully shape the future of the fantasy vertical, by identifying and claiming Fixed-Odds-Fantasy’s place in the market, initially through our pilot with OPAP in retail. Currently, we are about to expand to the African market through our imminent launch with South Africa’s most popular operator, Hollywoodbets. By entering the US market after our next steps with basketball fantasy odds and the rest of America’s favourite sports, FSI will be actively shaping the future of the global fantasy market.