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DraftKings has explored the landscape in the past, including major deals with the World Series of Poker (WSOP) and the World Poker Tour (WPT). It’s not clear if any of the parties really saw substantial returns, though, and the sponsorships eventually fizzled out.
After some time apart, the WPT relationship is being rekindled.
Angelica Hael, WPT’s VP of Global Tour Management, says it coincides with the tour’s overseas efforts:
The World Poker Tour has increased its focus on event activation for European events, starting with WPT European Championship. We are pleased to align ourselves with DraftKings, as the DraftKings team shares a similar vision of industry growth and enhanced experiences for all players.
Hael wouldn’t indicate if the deal is a one-off or the start of another long-term relationship: “We’ll see where it takes us from here.”
As part of the agreement, DraftKings will run eight WPT qualifiers via NFL and NBA contests. The goal, according to the press release, is “to send daily fantasy winners on a trip to Europe for a VIP poker experience.” It’s the first joint effort between the two parties since 2015.
The qualifying package carries a value of $7,400 and includes:
Although it won’t have a logo on the felt, DraftKings will have a visible presence at the event.
Hael indicated that there will be a booth on-site from which DraftKings will run promotional giveaways of some sort. The details are pending, but the giveaways won’t be exclusive.
“The live promotions will be geared towards benefitting all players at the event, not just those who qualified through DraftKings,” she said.
The WPT European Championship runs from Jan. 10-15 at Spielbank Casino with a €1 million guarantee on the prize pool. It’s the tour’s first televised event in Europe since 2013.
The chance to turn a modest investment into a huge payday is another shared trait between poker and DFS.
Qualifiers for the WPT European Championship are available for as little as $20, and satellites start at just $0.25. Those who earn seats to the live event will be playing for a six-figure top prize that figures to be about a quarter of a million dollars.
NFL qualifiers for the WPT event are already live on the DraftKings client, and NBA contests should follow shortly.
The Week 10 qualifier was a $20 event with 464 entries. It filled early (which is a good sign), with user “Carterdg22” collecting the first WPT package. Two more qualifiers will run during Week 11 — one for $20 and another for $125.
The site will award a total of eight packages for the WPT European Championship.
DraftKings has been courting the poker industry aggressively for about five years. Since the two worlds overlap so much, it would seem to be a fairly natural focus.
In 2012, DraftKings hired former professional poker player Jon Aguiar, first as a consultant and then as an overseer of the VIP experience. Aguiar provided a direct link to the high-stakes community, and his reach moved the needle.
Some of the more prolific DFS users are current or former poker players, including Brandon Adams, Eric Crain, Aaron Jones, and November Niner Max Steinberg.
DraftKings’ CFO Tim Dent comes from a poker background, too. He used to be the CEO of Everest Poker.
The brand even tried to capitalize on the Twitch popularity of Jason Somerville by partnering directly with him. Somerville is a member of Team PokerStars and a devout UFC fan, and his live streaming audience was a good target.
With the pieces in place, DraftKings went to work with two of live poker’s biggest brands.
The WSOP first partnered with DraftKings in 2014.
The agreement made DraftKings the official daily fantasy sports site for the world’s most prestigious poker tournament. For the first time ever, folks could use their DFS expertise to qualify for the WSOP Main Event. At the final table in November, DraftKings had more players patched up (3) than any other brand.
That partnership expanded significantly in 2015, too.
DraftKings branding was plastered all over the Rio Convention Center, and the site installed a huge, fully staffed fantasy sports lounge. It even put its name on a bracelet event, the $1,500 DraftKings 50/50. The tournament mimicked one of the popular formats for DFS contests in which half of the field receives a payout.
“The goal is that you can’t leave the World Series of Poker without having heard of DraftKings,” Aguiar said of the branding.
Late in 2015, though, the Nevada Gaming Commission ordered unlicensed DFS operators to cease operation within the state. The attorney general opined that DFS amounted to a sports pool or an illegal lottery, depending on the test applied.
At the time, Steinberg was preparing to take his seat at the Main Event final table with a DraftKings patch on his lapel. That deal was abandoned, as were pretty much all marketing efforts within the state.
That NGC ruling was effectively the end of the DraftKings/WSOP partnership.
DraftKings’ relationship with WPT began in 2013 with the site becoming the tour’s exclusive DFS partner. It was a pretty active partnership, too.
The deal included many of the same features as the most recent one — qualifiers on the DK client, an on-the-ground presence at live events, and promotions for players in attendance. DraftKings also served as the primary sponsor for some of the Season 12 live stream broadcasts. Aguiar made a handful of on-camera appearances to pitch the product.
Players were treated to some enviable off-the-felt experiences, too, borrowing on DraftKings’ other relevant partnerships.
The Sacramento Kings, for example, hosted WPT qualifiers during that season’s Rolling Thunder event. The next season, qualifiers for the Borgata Winter Poker Open were given a VIP experience with the Philadelphia 76ers, DraftKings’ first NBA partner.
The union continued to gain momentum during 2014, too. The Season 13 Five Diamond Poker Classic drenched Bellagio in DraftKings branding. CEO Jason Robins announced the shuffle up and deal on Day 1, and the brand co-hosted a fairly extravagant players’ party.
DraftKings continued to offer qualifiers for select events the following spring, but the WPT partnership eventually tapered down to zero.
It appears to be ramping up once again, though.
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Curiously, FanDuel is far on the other end of the spectrum when it comes to its relationship with poker. It has, so far, not touched the game. A spokesperson previously explained that the “data indicates that it’s actually very wasteful marketing.”
Whether that’s true or not depends on who you ask. And which company they work for.
DraftKings’ strong ties to poker seem to make the market a natural fit. And given its total advertising budget, the spend to sponsor events like the WPT European Championship is likely negligible, more or less.
The state of the European marketplace is also of note, as the two DFS leaders are taking opposite approaches to their overseas endeavors.
DraftKings is looking to expand its footprint in Europe, as evidenced by the recent launch of EuroLeague basketball contests. Earlier this year, Chief International Officer Jeffrey Haas said that DraftKings is “fully committed to international expansion.”
FanDuel, on the other hand, recently pulled out of the European market entirely. It was originally founded in Scotland but has since relocated its headquarters stateside.
Although the WPT qualifiers— and the live event itself, to some extent — will be heavily populated by US players, the geographic implications of partnering with a major live event in Europe seems to fit in with DraftKings’ current strategy.