During his 16-year career in the National Football League when he played in 256 consecutive games, London Fletcher never paid much attention to fantasy football leagues.
That’s certainly changed now.
“I never thought about it or participated,” says Fletcher, one of several former and current athletes involved with Charlotte-based FantasyDraft, an online daily sports fantasy site. “Now I see why people love it. It’s taken off, and we’re still only scratching the surface.”
FantasyDraft entered the rapidly expanding fantasy sports industry last December, offering head-to-head and multiplayer contests in football. With an estimated 56 million fantasy sports players in the United States and Canada, the industry appealed to FantasyDraft CEO Grant Yoder, 42, who came to the company after several years in the e-commerce industry.
“We see daily fantasy sports as a true social experience, and we want to make it fun for our customers,” Yoder said. “We put our players first, and that’s how we want to grow our site. We’re trying to make the contests more accessible, with low contest fees and more people having chances to win.”
Fletcher, who has lived in Charlotte for the past six years, said the company’s motto is Players First.
“You can learn how to build a team and be a GM on a daily basis,” he said.
Fantasy sports participants draft teams each day, with players assigned monetary values based on their production. There is a salary cap for each team in each contest.
There is stiff competition among companies, led by industry giants DraftKings and FanDuel, which lure players with huge payouts such as the $1 million first-place prize offered by Draft Kings in its British Open contest. At the large sites, full-time fantasy experts can submit hundreds of entries in each contest, making it difficult for the average player to win.
“You don’t want to have an uneven playing field,” Fletcher said. “We want the everyday person to have a chance to win.”
With limited entries, smaller fields and a larger payout zone, FantasyDraft is geared toward those players with less time and money to invest. FantasyDraft pays out a minimum of 25 percent of its players in paid contests. By referring friends, players can also earn cash each time their friends play.
Yoder has signed endorsement deals with Clayton Kershaw, Drew Brees and Kevin Love. NFL broadcasters Boomer Esiason and Jimmy Johnson are also in the fold. Online players can compete against the celebrities as long as the current athletes are not playing fantasy contests in their own sports.
FantasyDraft has also signed several professional poker players who competed in this summer’s World Series of Poker in Las Vegas. Mooresville’s Mike Gracz, who made the final table in a WSOP event last month, is affiliated with the company.
“This is becoming more and more mainstream, and folks will be looking for places to play,” Yoder said. “We want to be the fantasy sports site with the best customer experience. We want players to have a fun experience whether they are playing against the field or playing against their friends.”
Early opponents of fantasy sports feared that fans would begin to cheer for specific players instead of teams, but Fletcher disputes that theory. “Fans are always going to be fans,” he said. “This is great for the leagues in all sports – you now have more eyes on the games.”