Sources say MLS may seek an equity stake in DraftKings as well as teaming up with the daily fantasy site in its new deal.

By Grant Wahl
July 25, 2015

We’ve written here in the past that one way Major League Soccer might build its audience is to follow the NFL’s lead and become more attractive to gamblers. We’ve also written about the few folks who do gamble on MLS and noted that the league’s crazy parity must make it a challenge to win money betting on it.

(I’ve also had some readers tell me the opposite: That often the people setting the lines on MLS know less about the league than they do about other leagues, meaning MLS gamblers who actually know the league will have an advantage.)

In any case, MLS’s new deal with DraftKings, a leading daily fantasy site, is a sign that the league is embracing the rise of daily fantasy, the possibility for fans to win money on it, and the chance that MLS can build its own fan base as a result.

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“I think clearly daily fantasy drives greater interest in the league,” says Gary Stevenson, the president and managing director of MLS Business Ventures. “It gives people an opportunity to study players and get to know players and understand their tendencies. We believe that daily fantasy is a game of skill.”

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“If you take a look at all the different combinations that you can make up on a particular day, if you are a player that doesn’t spend time understanding it and educating yourself on the various tendencies of the players, I think you would have a hard time succeeding here. So we believe it’s a game of skill, and certainly that’s the way it has been in 45 of the states.”

DraftKings already had deals with MLB, the NHL, NASCAR and UFC.

Jason Robins, the CEO of DraftKings, says he’s impressed by some of the things MLS has done to connect with its fans, who he argues are some of the most rabid fans he has seen in any sport or league.

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Robins highlighted some of the special offerings to come, including running contests where people can win on-field experiences. “We’re trying to transform from something typically viewed as a second-screen experience to more of a sole sporting experience for people,” Robins says. “That’s honestly more exciting than the advertising part [of the deal]. It’s a true differentiator.”

Stevenson said MLS would continue to provide its own season-long fantasy game in addition to the DraftKings daily game.

Sources close to the deal said that conversations about MLS taking an equity stake in DraftKings are in the works.

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