1 year ago
Hello again, my fellow fantasy players! I hope everything is going well for you during these tumultuous times. As you can understand, we are here to trace the history of fantasy sports in Europe. Last time, we talked about the origins and evolution of the game in general, so now it’s time for part 2. Let’s get going!
It may sound obvious, but if we’re talking about fantasy football, it was created by an Englishman by the name of Bernie Donnelly in 1971. The game was then known as the Donnelly Fantasy Football League. The set-up was pretty interesting – there were only eight teams in the league, and each team consisted of 15 players from which just five scored each week. The only thing that brought fantasy points were goals – rather simple compared to today’s scoring system. There was a caveat though – the teams remained the same, but the managers could be replaced. Each new manager could either stick to the predecessor’s squad or do a makeover. Bernie recalled that there was a long waiting list of people who wanted to take over the clubs. He even admitted that had they chosen to do so, they would have been able to have the second division as the demand was huge.
Donnelly Fantasy Football League's logo.
There is also evidence of the Italian fantasy football game known as Fantacalcio. It is a fruit of labor of Riccardo Albini, a tech journalist from Italy. There is scarce information available in English, but a Fantasy Football Mag author stated that signor Albini pointed out a very important thing – fantasy football teaches us to appreciate the players we would otherwise ignore. Amen to that!
Another important figure in European fantasy sports is Andrew Wainstein, the founder of Fantasy League Ltd in 1991. He popularized the game when the Internet was still a rather new thing, so he had to write a computer program that processed the results and formed the standings. Here is what he said in a 2014 interview to the Fanfeud blog: “I wrote a program to crunch the scores, but there was a report program that printed everything off at about 7 pm after the last games. It took over 12 hours to look through all the leagues. Eventually, my body clock was set to wake up every three hours, because that was how long it took for the printer to run out of paper. In the morning I’d pack a bunch of envelopes and take it to the local sorting office.”
In the 1993-94 season, the renowned newspaper Daily Telegraph introduced fantasy football to the public. It was a huge success and soon spawned many spin-offs in local and regional newspapers where players from the lower divisions and non-league clubs could play in ‘teams’ alongside Premiership and European clubs. A funny thing actually happened at the end of the second Daily Telegraph’s fantasy football season. 12-year-old Jonathan Roberts from Blackburn bested other 341,866 competitors and won a two-week holiday in any country of the world to watch a football match of his choosing. Unfortunately, there is no information about where Jonathan decided to travel, so we can only guess.
Of course, with the DFS craze taking over the United States in the 2010s, the two industry giants, FanDuel and DraftKings, jumped into the action. However, Europe was a tough nut to crack as Fanduel pulled out of the UK market after just one complete season. DraftKings is still operating in some European countries, like the United Kingdom, Germany, Ireland, Latvia and some others, but there is no telling what fate awaits DK as Europe is known more for its strong sports betting culture.
There are various reasons why fantasy sports has had mixed success in Europe, and there are several sites that were successful at some point in time but then shut down. One of the most popular, perhaps, was the British DFS platform Mondogoal. It was founded in 2014 as one of the largest daily fantasy sports providers outside the United States and Canada. Mondogoal was partnered with the likes of Real Madrid, Spurs, and Aston Villa and had market presence in the United Kingdom and Italy [link in Russian]. Unfortunately, after two years in operation, Mondogoal management decided to focus on B2B, and the site shut down. Mondogoal was then acquired by the Canadian DFS provider called Global Daily Fantasy Sports [link in Russian].
Another European fantasy sports website that is now defunct is Fanaments. It was founded in 2015 and was registered in Iceland. Fanaments offered contests in various sports, including such fantasy exotics as PGA and UFC [link in Russian]. The site was shut down on December 1, 2016.
Finally, another defunct fantasy sports platform is Oulala based in Malta. There is not much information about it, and the last tweet of the official Oulala’s Twitter account is dated April 25, 2018. As you may guess, the official website is not accessible either. It really is hard to say what happened because Oulala won the ‘Best Product’ award at the prestigious SBC Awards ceremony for two consecutive years.
As you probably know, the number of fantasy sports platforms open to European players is pretty slim. Yes, some people from the more geographically favorable locations can play at DK, and yes, there is your king of the jungle, FanTeam, FantasyBet, and local DFS websites (sometimes operating under the aforementioned Fanteam’s umbrella), but this author’s opinion is that there is strong lack of competition in the European fantasy sports market. Competition would, of course, spur a better ecosystem, even bigger guarantees, and better overall fantasy sports experience. Sure enough, there is a lot of work to be done in order to do away with Europeans’ love of sports betting, but the platform that can do it may find itself on top of the fantasy sports food chain in Europe.
That is it for the series on the brief history of fantasy sports. Stay safe, wash your hands and take care of your loved ones. Until next time!
DFS enthusiast and rather frequent player. Spreading DFS word within the sound of my voice. Love all things hockey.