Fantasy sports kick off in Europe

The Euro 2016 European Championship soccer tournament could provide the kick daily fantasy sports, such as leagues run by DraftKings, need to get going in Europe, a gaming platform believes.

In fantasy sports, players compete against each other by building a team of athletes from a real-world sport. Based on the players' statistical performance, they earn points and a cash pay-out. DraftKings boasts on its website that it has awarded more than $2 billion in prizes.

In 2015, there were 57.4 million people fantasy sports players in the U.S. and Canada, according to figures from the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.

France soccer euro 2016

The Euro 2016 soccer competition being held in France is coinciding with the rising awareness of fantasy sports, according to Valery Bollier, CEO and co-founder of daily fantasy football platform Oulala.

"This year is an important year and Euro 2016 will help because it is the first main event that is happening in the football sector whilst fantasy sports are known in Europe," Bollier told CNBC during a phone interview.

And U.S. firms such as DraftKings and FanDuel are keen to expand into Europe. DraftKings started operating in the U.K. in February.

"We need healthy competition, so for us it is good news when we see Draft Kings and Fan Duel arrive in Europe because they will help us to raise the awareness of our new sector because they have a huge marketing budget," Bollier explained.

DraftKings, a fantasy sports website
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DraftKings, a fantasy sports website

Daily fantasy sports, such as fantasy football, have been present in Europe for years, but have failed to achieve a strong market share against traditional gambling and sports betting.

"The early versions of daily fantasy sports struggled because of the competitive nature of sports betting in the U.K. There is simply so much choice," Lorien Pilling, director of Global Betting and Gaming Consultants, told CNBC via email.

"Daily fantasy sports works in the U.S. because there is so little regulated sports betting (either online or in betting shops)."

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Regulations in the U.S. are slowly changing. Earlier this month, the New York Assembly passed a bill to legalize, tax and regulate daily fantasy sports under state law.

But Bollier said that trying to get regulators to consider daily fantasy sports as a game of skill and not gambling has been a challenge.

"Three years ago, when we wanted to launch the game we went to the gambling authorities in the different European countries and most of them said you are like sport betting," he explained.

"In the U.K. by default we have a sport betting licence, but this licence has nothing to do with our real activity. Legislation has to understand that we are a growing market."

Valery Bollier, CEO and co-founder of Oulala
Photographer | Collection | Getty Images
Valery Bollier, CEO and co-founder of Oulala

Oulala launched in October 2015 and currently has around 20,000 players, but the company spent two years before that developing the game and researching the market. Players can join or create leagues for free, or pay an entrance fee for the chance of winning a share of the prize pot.

"We take a percentage out of this commission, which means that we don't play against our customers. We're a marketplace," explained Bollier.

"It's a comfortable business model because we are very friendly with our customers; we don't win when they lose."

However, industry expert Lorien Pilling was sceptical of fantasy sports' long-term prospects in Europe.

"The U.S. firms will come to Europe and spend lots of marketing dollars to promote their product," he said. "They will find new customers because sport betting is popular in Europe and gamblers are familiar with fantasy sports."

"But I am not certain the market is sustainable once the marketing spend and sign-up offers stop," he added.

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