SideDraft: A New Fantasy Sports Betting App for iOS, From U-M Grads

10/17/13Follow @XconomyDET

Count me among those who are officially obsessed with fantasy football. I play in at least two leagues every year. I watch “The League.” I pay attention to what the talking heads are saying every Sunday morning on “Fantasy Football Now.” I field text messages on the weekends from friends asking for sit or start advice. Fantasy football is a big part of my life from August to December, and I’m not ashamed to admit it.

If you’re not like me, it may be surprising to learn there are both newscasts and sitcoms devoted to fantasy football, but fantasy sports is estimated to be a multibillion-dollar industry with double-digit annual growth. The people who are into it, like me, are usually INTO IT, and they’ll spend money pursuing their hobby.

There are a number of popular websites like FanDuel and Draft Day that offer people who play fantasy sports the opportunity to create and bet on weekly teams. (It’s legal to gamble on fantasy sports online because the law views fantasy as a game of skill rather than chance, carving out an exemption for fantasy betting.) One of the newest entrants into the market is a Bloomfield Hills, MI-based startup called Blue Ox Entertainment, maker of the SideDraft app.

Co-founder Jon Goldstein says SideDraft is the first-ever exclusively mobile fantasy sports gambling app carried in the Apple Store. “In the desktop world, FanDuel does what we do,” he explains, noting that sites like FanDuel have become very profitable. “The business model is terrific.”

SideDraft is a free app. Players download it and create an account that they put money into. They then pick whether they want to play against someone they know who also has an account, or be matched against a random opponent. Whoever initiates the matchup picks first in a four-round draft; each SideDraft team has six players: a quarterback, a running back, a wide receiver, a tight end, a flex player, and a kicker. Currently, SideDraft offers only one-on-one matchups, but Goldstein says the company is almost finished building multi-player capability.

If each player bets $5 on the matchup, the winner gets $9, and the remaining $1 goes to SideDraft, which is how most of the online fantasy betting sites work. The key difference with SideDraft, Goldstein says, is that it’s 100 percent mobile and can be played on the fly. “A lot of people out there are trying to build an app first and find users to make money later,” he notes. “We’re doing it the other way around. We had the business model, where we get paid a fee every time someone plays, first.”

Goldstein, an avid fantasy football player, founded the company with Randy Leff and Jason Page, fellow graduates of the University of Michigan. All of the co-founders have day jobs. Goldstein is a partner in the Emagine Theatre chain, Leff is a podiatrist, and Page is a database developer and consultant.

Goldstein says that when they first submitted SideDraft to the Apple Store, they were rejected. Goldstein had a contact at Apple that he met at a social gaming conference last year, and eventually, with her help, they were able to get SideDraft on the iOS platform.

The company next plans to pursue venture funding so it can hire a CEO and spend money on marketing and customer acquisition. Though SideDraft is only a few months old, Goldstein says 33 percent of people who download the app end up paying, with an average of $10 on the line per competition—and that’s with zero advertising, he adds.

“Weekly fantasy sports are way more exciting,” Goldstein says when asked to speculate about SideDraft’s success so far. “You get to change your team every week, and you get to put the best players on your team. If you win, you win money that week instead of waiting until the end of the season. It’s great entertainment value, and we think our game might be easier to get into for people who are unfamiliar with fantasy football.”

Sarah Schmid is the editor of Xconomy Detroit. You can reach her at 313-570-9823 or sschmid@xconomy.com. Follow @XconomyDET

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