On November 30, FanDuel Sportsbook in New Jersey gave Crimson Tide backers an unexpected surprise: The nascent book preemptively paid out all bets on Alabama to win the college football national championship — before the teams playing for the championship had even been determined.
The early Christmas gift, which effectively allowed bettors to freeroll the company, had the intended effect. Soon afterward, the Associated Press picked up the story, followed by CBSSports, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and many others, showering FanDuel with an untold amount of free advertising.
Just over one month later, FanDuel’s wager is looking like a winner, as Alabama plays in the national championship tonight as the favorite over the Clemson Tigers. But even if ‘Bama comes up short, the sportsbook has already received a nice return on investment in the form of free media.
The ploy is just one of the strategies employed to great effect by FanDuel’s parent company, Paddy Power Betfair (PPB), which has become well-known, and even somewhat infamous, for its edgy marketing techniques that frequently go viral.
In Pennsylvania, PPB will soon be launching a FanDuel-branded sportsbook in conjunction with King of Prussia’s Valley Forge casino. The company’s sometimes outrageous stunts could help the relatively modest property punch above its weight in what might be a cutthroat industry.
Paddy Power’s history of mischief
One of Ireland and UK’s biggest bookmakers, Paddy Power agreed to merge with rival Betfair in 2015, creating an online gambling behemoth when the deal went through the following year.
After the Supreme Court did away with the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), the newly minted Paddy Power Betfair added DFS giant FanDuel to its stable of brands in an effort to position itself as a major player in the budding U.S. sports betting market.
Even before the FanDuel acquisition, Paddy Power had a reputation of pushing the envelope in its advertising, creating spectacles that were irresistible to mainstream media.
Of its many outrageous stunts, a few stand out.
In January 2014, the company sponsored basketball icon Dennis Rodman during his unlikely journey to North Korea, which is currently under the iron grip of the despotic Kim Jong-un regime. During the trip, Rodman donned a Paddy Power hat, while a company executive gave the young leader several gifts. Paddy Power eventually pulled its sponsorship after public outrage, and over questions of whether the gifts broke international sanctions law.
Later that year, ahead of the World Cup in Brazil, the bookmaker was back at it. Paddy Power sparked a firestorm after an aerial image was released showing a massive message in support of England seemingly carved out of the Amazon rain forest. The campaign quickly went viral, and the company endured fierce criticism from all quarters until revealing the following day that it had all been a hoax, created with the help of a graphic designer.
C'mon England! #BrazilNuts pic.twitter.com/8O1Ayyd8TR
— Paddy Power (@paddypower) June 7, 2014
A tried-and-true strategy comes to the US
Across the Atlantic, it seems that Paddy Power is back to its old tricks, albeit less controversial ones, like paying out bets early — for now, at least.
For PPB, this strategy is hardly a new one. In 2017, it paid out all bets on Floyd Mayweather before his bout with Conor McGregor (Mayweather went on to defeat his opponent by TKO).
During the 2016 presidential election, though, it wasn’t so lucky. Sure of a Hillary Clinton victory, the bookmaker paid out approximately €1 million in bets on the Democrat before election day, only to lose around €4 million total after Donald Trump’s stunning upset.
The company couldn’t have been too angry, though — the stunt earned it free publicity on CNN, Financial Times, and a host of other outlets.
Undeterred, PPB employed the same strategy with the newly acquired FanDuel, using its early payout of Alabama bets to garner widespread attention once again. The online book had only been in operation for about three months.
Valley Forge an unlikely sports betting player
With PA promising to tax sportsbook operators at an outlandish 36%, on top of a $10 million licensing fee, it was an open question as to whether the state’s smaller casinos would even attempt to compete in the industry.
American casino conglomerate Boyd Gaming was unfazed, however, announcing it would acquire Valley Forge in 2017. It later partnered with MGM, then inked a deal with FanDuel’s parent company, all in an effort to position itself as a big player in U.S. sports betting. The casino subsequently made it official, applying for a PA sports betting license and receiving conditional approval in December.
Valley Forge is one of the state’s smaller and lesser-known casinos. In fact, while its profits have recently been on the rise, it remains as the second lowest-earning gambling property in Pennsylvania.
On its own, a Valley Forge-branded sportsbook likely wouldn’t get much traction, especially when facing better-known competitors like Parx, SugarHouse, and Rivers.
But by teaming up with heavy hitter FanDuel, the King of Prussia casino has changed the game entirely. Indeed, after PASPA was overturned, the DFS giant quickly moved into New Jersey sports betting, and is now one of the leaders in the space.
The FanDuel brand, coupled with Paddy Power’s marketing prowess, could certainly propel Valley Forge into becoming one of the leading sportsbook operators in the state. That said, the duo will face more challenges in PA, due to quirks in the state’s gambling law that force online “skins” to prominently display the brand of their host casino. In practice, this means we will likely see something to the effect of a “FanDuel Sportsbook by Valley Forge.”
Even so, the FanDuel name will carry a lot of weight and definitely be an attractive option for sports bettors who recognize the brand from its daily fantasy beginnings.
While Paddy Power’s trademark outrageous ads may not play out on PA TV airwaves, players can definitely expect unique promos, such as early payouts, which could play a big part in grabbing a chunk of market share from competitors.
Valley Forge and FanDuel haven’t launched any sportsbook products in the Keystone State yet, but the wait is almost over. The casino is slated to debut its brick-and-mortar and online sportsbook in the first half of this year.
By that time, at least four books will have launched, with a few potentially going online. When FanDuel hits the market, it will be interesting to see just how committed players are to local brands, and if Valley Forge can make its mark and punch above its weight in the hyper-competitive industry.