DFS Supporters Continue to Overreact to All Criticism

Staff : August 26th, 2016
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Since it first came under fire last fall (back-story can be found here), the daily fantasy sports industry has done a remarkably good job of advancing legislation in state legislatures across the country, despite doing so under legal threat, and in very polarized environments.

But the industry has also done a remarkably good job irritating many industry observers.

Even though they scored a huge victory in New York, which could very well have been their Waterloo had things gone against them, DFS supporters continue to have extremely thin skin, responding like Donald Trump to the slightest criticisms lobbed their way.

The most recent example of this was this week’s Outside the Lines column that appeared at ESPN, the culmination of a year-long investigation by writer Don Van Natta Jr.

Did the article have some click-bait elements to it? Yes.

Was the ESPN criticism fair and balanced? No.

Did the article rely almost entirely on the observations of critics? Yes.

But was it so over the top as to be dismissed as naïve speculation? No.

In fact, the column brings up many good points and asks important questions. For example, the long-term health of the industry, despite what DFS supporters might tell you, is far from a given, as the effects of the increased regulatory burdens, the industry forced out of some states, and the PR damage done, are all factors that need to be hashed out before anyone can say they know for certain what the valuations of these companies are, and if they are going to become profitable down the road.

But since last fall it’s become evident that a lot of DFS people live in an alternate reality.

To some observers, these DFS supporters are channeling the Black Knight of Monty Python fame, as they downplay the industry’s injuries: “it is but a scratch… it’s just a flesh wound.”

Within a day of the ESPN column being published, two pro-DFS writers at major online websites, have already decided to refute the column’s tone (strangely focusing on the use of the word implosion), with their own assertions that are backed up by little more than their own speculation.

On Twitter, one of these writers, Dan Roberts, called DFS sites “tech startups,” and incorrectly stated that along with being tech companies (a questionable characterization) another reason they’ve yet to turn a profit is because they’re only four years old (FanDuel was founded in 2009, and DraftKings in  2012).

In his column, the other writer, Fortune’s Dan Primack, spent a lot of time trying to argue that the valuations of FanDuel and DraftKings hasn’t gone down from their pre-fiasco peaks – an assertion that doesn’t even deserve a rebuttal.

Much like their longstanding claims that DFS is in no way, shape, or form gambling, they want the general public to suspend belief, and disbelieve their lying eyes.  Don’t believe the 11,000 word ESPN column that was a year in the making and based on interviews with 50+ individuals from across the DFS spectrum they say. That’s all hogwash because the writer took a few liberties with somewhat hyperbolic language and had the audacity to speculate.

To emphasize the thin-skin of the industry, let’s go back to the article’s detractors focus on the word implode for a moment, since this was a main point of objection – not the much better argument against the ESPN column’s statement that technology and bankroll are the only ways to win playing DFS.

Yes, implosion means something along the lines of, to destroy from within or self-destruct (the online definition is; collapse or cause to collapse violently inward), but implosion also has a somewhat softer meaning colloquially. As urbandictionary.com notes, implode is regularly used to describe someone failing miserably at something.

Athletes are often said to implode. A pitcher might implode in the third inning but go on to pitch five more innings. A golfer can implode at a single hole.

Basically, you can take implosion to mean a complete collapse, or you can equate it to a short-term setback. And it’s not much of a stretch to say that DFS failed miserably at self-regulation and preventing the still ongoing legislative scrutiny.

I’m not trying to make an excuse for the writer of the ESPN column, as he seems to have included a few flourishes into the column, and appears to have a negative view of the situation.

What I’m trying to do is emphasize how subjective, and inane, it is to parse certain words, and use that as a reason to dismiss the entire column. Particularly when those words are relatively meaningless to the larger points being made, and open to interpretation.

Van Natta may not have been trying to suggest DraftKings and FanDuel were dead or dying, just suffering from self-inflicted wounds.

This focus on his use of “implode” has distracted from the greater theme of the column, which I would define as: DraftKings and to a lesser extent FanDuel, grew too fast, were reckless with the use of the investment capital trusted to their companies, and were basically in over their heads by the time the shit hit the fan.

There are several debatable assertions in the piece, but the use of the word implosion is at the bottom of that list.

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