Two years ago, when Floyd Mayweather fought Manny Pacquiao in the so-called “Fight of the Century,” Mayweather promoted daily fantasy sports app FanDuel on his shorts. FanDuel spent a reported $1 million to get the prime real estate.
These days, Mayweather is repping a different daily fantasy app: Draft.
The three-year-old, pick-up-and-play fantasy app aims to compete with daily fantasy sports giants DraftKings and FanDuel by offering a simpler option for DFS newbies. And in May, Draft got bought by Ireland’s largest betting shop, Paddy Power Betfair, in a $19 million deal. PPB, at the time of the acquisition, also announced an additional $29 million “cash consideration” will “become payable” to Draft over the next four years depending on its business performance.
In other words, Draft suddenly finds itself with a big marketing budget, and is putting it to fast use. Linking up with Mayweather in the week before his highly-anticipated Aug. 26 fight with mixed martial artist Conor McGregor made perfect sense. Leading up to the fight, Mayweather enticed his fans to join Draft with the promise of giving away two free tickets.
“We felt that with Floyd, he’s super relevant given the upcoming fight with Conor, and he’s all about making money and he’s very confident and likes to challenge his fans,” says Draft co-CEO Jordan Fliegel.
Unlike with any current NFL players, who are not allowed to play on a fantasy site for money, Mayweather has no such restrictions. “So you can go and play against Floyd on the site for money,” Fliegel says, “and that’s a pretty cool experience.”
Mayweather did not promote Draft on his trunks in the McGregor fight—but he did wear Paddy Power underwear to the weigh-in. The irony of Mayweather endorsing the Irish bookmaker, and not McGregor, was not lost on boxing fans on social media. Mayweather tweeted a photo and quipped, “What were the odds on that?”
— Floyd Mayweather (@FloydMayweather) August 26, 2017
And then there’s Shaquille O’Neal, an even bigger sports star, despite being long-retired from the NBA. This week, Shaq opened up a Week 1 NFL head-to-head contest on Draft to his 14.6 million Twitter followers.
Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson, former NFL wide receiver, is on board with Draft. Michael Vick, former NFL quarterback, is on board with Draft.
And Draft has courted current players as well, even though they can’t play on the app for money: Richard Sherman of the Seahawks and Antonio Brown of the Steelers, who said in a Facebook plug that Draft is “changing the game” for fantasy.
Fliegel has some experience with scoring big athlete endorsements: he got Steph Curry to invest in, and promote, his previous startup, Coachup.
Draft’s approach is to skip the television and radio advertising that made DraftKings and FanDuel notorious, and instead reach sports fans on social media.
“Sports fans follow athletes on social, so there’s an obvious correlation there,” Fliegel says. “We want them to know we’ve created a simpler, more fun, more social game for regular people, not for sharks.”
To be sure, Draft is tiny compared to DraftKings and FanDuel, which each have millions of users and a $1.2 billion valuation each. But those companies are seriously depleted from a year of legal costs and a failed merger attempt, while Draft kept its head down and managed an exit. Now, with big names endorsing it, the aggressive user acquisition will heat up.
Disclaimer: Yahoo offers its own daily fantasy sports product.
Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.