ast week, Verizon Media‘s Yahoo Sports announced a season-long partnership with Los Angeles Chargers running back and Gridiron Gaming Group founder Austin Ekeler. The company also announced its first-ever Yahoo Fantasy Football Championship; the “Trade Hub” feature for football in Yahoo Fantasy Plus premium subscription; the Daily Fantasy contests going shark-free; Draft Together; and new gaming programming, including the launch of “Yahoo Sportsbook Live” on the Fantasy Football Live.
To further discuss and get first-hand insights into all these announcements, and the fantasy sports betting industry in general, Yogonet spoke with Geoff Reiss, GM of Yahoo Sports.
Reiss previously served at Starwave, a digital media and technology company, where he oversaw the launch of ESPN.com, NFL.com, NBA.com and NASCAR.com and managed the creation of ESPN’s Fantasy and Insider products. After leaving ESPN, he was the CEO of the Professional Bowlers Association, led sports partnerships at Twitter and grew early stage digital media companies as a consultant and board member.
Can you tell us about Yahoo Sports’ first-of-its-kind season-long partnership with Los Angeles Chargers running back, fantasy star and Gridiron Gaming Group founder Austin Ekeler?
We’re incredibly excited about the partnership with Austin. He will be joining Yahoo Sports as a fantasy football analyst, staring in weekly fantasy show called “Ekeler’s Edge” on our award-winning fantasy platform, “Fantasy Football Live,” alongside expert commentary from our own football analyst, Liz Loza.
The new show will debut later this month with a combination of content for all fantasy fans this season, really driven by which platform they will be watching. Austin will spotlight fantasy players that are likely to have a big week based on his own experiences facing the opposing defenses in the league. Ekeler will also be conducting interviews with other football stars and fantasy enthusiasts and we’ll also host live conversations with Ekeler throughout the season to answer our fans’ most burning questions, offering unique perspectives for the fantasy community. The new programming will co-stream across Yahoo Sports as well as its associated social platforms including TikTok, and Ekeler’s channels, including his popular Twitch channel (Twitch.tv/AustinEkeler) to reach his avid fantasy fans.
Yahoo Fantasy Plus premium subscription service is set to debut for football with new exclusive tools, including the “Trade Hub”. Could you share further details on this and other new features in this service for each major sport as new seasons begin? What’s the current rate of subscribers, and how would you describe the profile of those users especially regarding their approach to gambling?
Yahoo Fantasy Plus is our premium subscription service that provides a series of exclusive tools for fantasy players including access to premium research tools, trade insights and easier lineup management. We are introducing the new “Trade Hub” feature, making proposing and evaluating trades easier and more fun to debut for football. The service is now available on mobile and desktop for the football season. We’re offering Fantasy players a free seven-day trial by signing up here to further support the strong engagement we’ve seen to date. For example, 90 percent of trialists to date have stayed on as subscribers and we’ve seen that more than a quarter of Yahoo Fantasy Plus subscribers have two or more fantasy teams. We have also seen that nearly all subscribers (91%) are long-running Fantasy players who have managed a league on Yahoo for more than one season. We will continue to explore opportunities to develop additional features for Yahoo Fantasy Plus as we look ahead.
Which new audiences are you targeting with this service and how? Which role is BetMGM playing in this?
Our holistic gaming approach and strong investment in Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) for our avid fantasy fans aligns with the way fans consume sports, also providing users with opportunities to wager on BetMGM in nine states. Yahoo Fantasy Plus enables us to cultivate relationships with both our avid and casual fantasy players and introduce them to our larger ecosystem featuring wagering opportunities. We’re driving personalized push notifications to Yahoo Fantasy Plus subscribers and other fantasy players to create steady, meaningful engagement with our audience.
What’s the current performance of your new tool Draft Together? Do you think it’s making a significant difference when it comes to choosing a fantasy sports experience?
Consumer response to Draft Together has been overwhelmingly positive, helping reinforce the product’s ability to influence consumer choice in terms of gaming platforms. We’ve leveraged star wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster in our latest brand campaign to showcase our fantasy platform and illustrate how Yahoo connects consumers via tools such as Draft Together – enabling multiple fans to uniquely experience and interact with each other through video chat as they draft their fantasy team on desktop, tablet and mobile. Draft Together is making its football season debut. The interactive experience gives users more flexibility for draft parties — which are inarguably one of the most enjoyable parts of fantasy.
Back in June, Yahoo’s Head of Consumer Joanna Lambert told us that the company has seen all of player conversion and betting re-engagement percentage metrics increase since October, and it planned to expand optimizations as football season nears. Could you elaborate and provide an update on these metrics and optimization expansion plans? Which strategies have proved most successful since then, and which external factors have played a significant role?
The number of consumers taking advantage of opportunities to wager on BetMGM continues to grow as over 80 percent of Yahoo Sports’ converted bettors have come from sports and fantasy products. Our focus has been on incentivizing consumers and ensuring they stay within the ecosystem. With football season around the corner, new BetMGM bettors that are referred by Yahoo will be eligible to claim $25 in contest entry credit to enter our paid daily fantasy contests and paid fantasy leagues as well as one year free of Yahoo Fantasy Plus. We anticipate continued success with this approach and are excited about this specific promotion as we enter one of the biggest betting periods of the year.
Ahead of the competition, the American Gaming Association estimated that 20 million Americans would bet on the Tokyo Olympics. What have you learned from the Olympics in terms of betting behavior and trends, and how would you assess Yahoo Sports and BetMGM’s approach and resources to meet demand around the event?
Similar to our core 360 strategy, we adopted a holistic approach to the Olympic season with original reporting, curated stories from our trusted media partners and diverse multimedia content. We worked with BetMGM to offer opportunities for paid gaming experiences where legal as well as daily interactive quizzes and polls and immersive experiences to create a deep experience for our users. This approach resonated with our users, with engagement spiking around the US Mens’ Basketball gold medal game.
Which were the takeaways from NBA Playoffs and MLB season so far? Lambert told us in June the company was working with the NBA to set up our 2021-22 plans and noted Yahoo’s help to launch NBABet Stream. Could you share an update on this partnership, and what we can expect for next season?
We saw unprecedented engagement for single-game, daily fantasy contests for the playoffs and anticipate increased engagement. We’re currently finalizing our partnership plans for 2021-22 and expect to share more soon.
Why have you decided to launch a Yahoo Fantasy Football Championship event at MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino later this year?
This represents a great opportunity for leading Yahoo Fantasy players to compete on the big stage by creating a more seamless experience between the digital and physical worlds. We wanted to host an event for our fantasy fans and bring our fans together safely. This is our first ever Yahoo Fantasy Football Championship and we’re so excited to be partnering with MGM to host it at MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino in Maryland from December 11-12, during Week 14 of the football season.
Fantasy players will have the opportunity to qualify for the championship through various free and paid contests throughout the first 10 weeks of the season. Sixty winners and their guests will then attend a surprise-filled VIP weekend in Maryland, complete with accommodations at MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino, roundtrip airfare for two, $500 in resort credits, and a series of special events. The first-place winner of the contest will be crowned with a $100k prize, and all qualifiers will walk away with a cash prize.
Yahoo Sportsbook is now live in nine states via its BetMGM partnership. BetMGM has just announced a deal to enter Arizona with Gila River casinos and NFL’s Cardinals. What are your goals and expectations for that market? On which other US markets are you working on, and seeing any kind of progress now? Are you after any kind of new partnerships to expand and be more competitive in the US?
We are certainly excited about the opportunities in Arizona given BetMGM’s future presence, particularly our ability to capitalize on the fact that competitors have not been able to create strong user databases. We also look forward to rolling out daily fantasy in the state, pending licensing approval under Arizona’s new paid fantasy regulations. We believe our offerings are well-positioned for this market. Additionally, we continue to keep our eye on pending legislation in states such as Massachusetts, Maryland and Ohio.
Which other plans, technology or concept innovations could you anticipate for the fantasy sports betting industry in the upcoming months? What are your outlooks and estimates in terms of size, or other indicators?
As the industry continues to see momentum and an increasing number of options for consumers, it will be even more important to ensure that we’re “speaking” directly to fans. By tailoring specific experiences for them, we’re confident that we’ll maintain consistent engagement and serve as a go-to gaming destination for both casual fans and avid players.