Fantasy sports games are big business--with over 10% annual growth in the business over the last five years and an estimated industry size of $1.7 billion by 2017, dominated by big billion-dollar names like ESPN and Yahoo. Smallish player DraftDay  is trying to shake up the game and win followers from the bigger names with a much more casual business model tailored for the smartphone era and a big real-world prize for its users: $1 million.
"If you pick the Perfect Lineup, which is the top scoring player in each position for a weekend--we'll pay you a million dollars," DraftDay CEO Taylor Caby tells Fast Company. "It's really hard to nail: Everybody thinks it's not too hard to figure out who the best quarterback will be and we'll go on from there, but that's just not the case. But at the same time, everybody loves a shot at a million dollars." It's effectively a clever PR campaign to pick up new members to the site's services.
The thinking behind the prize, which began in a 2011 edition of the PerfectLineup competition and inspired the NFL to release an incredibly similar game of its own, comes from a Caby's expertise in gaming. His career includes making over a million dollars in online poker playing and founding poker training website CardRunners. Caby's poker training plans were forced into a dramatic pivot in 2011, however, when the DOJ cracked down on the online gambling industry in the U.S., which rattled Caby's third-party poker services. Although the DOJ changed its mind  somewhat on online gambling late in 2011, the damage was done and Caby's now pushing DraftDay.
Apart from the million-dollar prize, his site's other major value proposition is the regular prizepool games which see big winners taking home more than $10,000 over a single day. Prize sizes like this, he pointed out, are "rarely" seen, if ever, in the sort of season-long fantasy sports leagues that the big names in the industry are more usually associated with.
The other hook for the type of fantasy competitions DraftDay runs is that, like a poker game, it's a short-term thing--legitimately a daily game. The existing season-long fantasy is already huge, Caby pointed out, but "we feel that right now our industry is only a fraction of that size" and the challenge is all about "getting the word out that there's a new way to play fantasy sports." Like casual gaming on your smartphone, it's also a quicker reward/fail loop versus a season-long fantasy game: "This is what people create now," Caby argues. "Their attention spans are short, and they want instant gratification." To that end DraftDay is also making its system totally mobile-optimized, versus more pedestrian season-long web-based games, to attract players who want to take part on their smartphone during their lunchbreak. And as recent stats point out, smartphone ownership is exploding .
So far, so simple, but don't doubt it's clever--it's certainly captured the attention of big-money venture backers in the form of Lightbank. The million-dollar prize is a PR gamble, of course, but Caby likes the odds of growing his site's user numbers from 20,000 to 60,000 over the NFL season.
[Image: Flickr user Terry Chay ]