April 19, 2018 / 1:02 PM / 7 months ago

Motor racing: F1 steps into fantasy world with equity stake

LONDON (Reuters) - Formula One is targeting the lucrative U.S. fantasy sports market with the launch on Thursday of daily pay-to-play and traditional free F1 games in partnership with Dublin-based PlayON.

The sport, now owned by Liberty Media, said in a statement it had also acquired an equity stake in PlayON at a company valuation of 30 million pounds ($42.62 million).

It is the first time Formula One, whose digital strategy includes a new F1 TV streaming offering due to go live next month, has bought into an external company.

F1’s director of digital and new business Frank Arthofer told Reuters the partnership would help attract a new and younger audience, particularly in key strategic markets, like the United States, and deepen engagement with existing fans.

“We’re launching with PlayON on their platforms and we’re also launching our own free-to-play game on our own platform (formula1.com) today,” he said in a telephone interview.

“We’re optimistic that will have cascading positive impacts across the business.

“From a commercial perspective, clearly there’s a market place here and we have not traditionally played in this space and captured our share of value.”

Killian Jones, the company’s founder and chief executive, declined to give any revenue predictions but said entry into the U.S. market was the “most noteworthy aspect” of the announcement.

Under the deal, live grands prix will be integrated into the PlayON platform (www.playon.co/f1) via F1 TV in key markets.

“Daily fantasy is reasonably well established now in the U.S. market and given the regulatory infrastructure over there is somewhat settled now. We think it’s the right time to go in,” he said.

“With the backing of Formula One, we think there’s a lot of opportunity over there.”

PlayON is also the official daily fantasy sports (DFS) partner of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in Europe, Latin America and Asia.

REGIONALLY TAILORED GAMES

Jones said PlayON would operate “real money games” only in those states where local gambling regulations specifically allowed them.

“On the daily fantasy side, we’ll be operating three different formats,” he said. “So we’ll have a game that’s just for qualifying, a game that’s just for the race and a game that’s the race weekend, including both qualifying and race.”

Players will pick a team of five drivers and one constructor in games that are tailored for regional audiences and in local languages.

Points are awarded for achievements, including finishing positions, places gained and fastest laps.

Arthofer said the season-long game, with one change per race week, on the F1 website mirrored that of some U.S. sports leagues and Premier League soccer.

“(The fans) will on a global basis have the option to play a free-to-play season-long game on our platform, and there will be no daily fantasy wagering,” he said.

“And then separately on Killian’s platform he’ll have a free-to-play game on a global basis, as well as — where regulated — a pay game.”

A Formula One spokesman said the sport’s 10 real teams would ultimately also benefit from any increase in overall revenues.

($1 = 0.7039 pounds)

Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Neville Dalton

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