A Firsthand Review Of The DraftKings Sports Betting National Championship

Written By Mike McGough on January 17, 2019 - Last Updated on January 21, 2019

Early last Sunday evening, when the Eagles’ potential game-winning fourth quarter drive was halted after the ball slipped through the hands of Alshon Jeffery into the waiting arms of the Saints’ Marcus Lattimore, all hopes of an Eagles Super Bowl repeat ended.

As the curtain came down on what was likely the end of folk-hero Nick Foles’ Eagles career, 1,300 miles away in a cavernous warehouse in Jersey City, the end of the Saints-Eagles game also marked the completion of the first DraftKings Sports Betting National Championship (SBNC).

Much has been written this week about how the last few hours of the DraftKings Sportsbook tourney played out, with a narrow window between the end of the Patriots-Chargers game and the start of the Saints-Eagles game.

This prevented some contestants from receiving their graded winning payouts in time to place their next bets, which was the final game on the SBNC contest slate.

More will be discussed and debated about the wild ending of this inaugural DraftKings (DK) NJ sports betting contest until their next tournament is held.

draftkings national championship

As I was able to attend as a guest of one of the participants (thanks DZ), I wanted to take a look at how DraftKings delivered on the functional “qualitative” aspects of the tourney experience, including accommodations, tourney venue, contest format, and DK help/support.

From what I observed and from some of the participants with whom I spoke, DraftKings gets a positive thumbs up for their overall performance in staging the first sports betting tournament.

Accommodations and venue at DraftKings SBNC

The locations of the W in Hoboken as hotel HQ and tourney venue site in Jersey City placed the participants in close proximity to travel into New York City or, at least, admire the NYC skyline.

If they wanted to keep it local and check out “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro’s Carlo’s Bakery in Hoboken or visit the Statue of Liberty from the Jersey side, all options were there (provided they wanted to pause their handicapping for an hour or two).

The tourney venue itself was located on the eighth floor of a Jersey City warehouse. No need to “check-in” there on your favorite social media account as DK went out of its way to ensure that the location was kept under wraps.

The location had that “after hours” club feel with no external directional signs. And it wasn’t until I saw the DraftKings logo swatch on a door that I knew I was at the right spot. Attendance was limited to the contest players and their guests. If you were neither, the price of admission was $100.

There was unlimited food and an open bar at the contest HQ for the entire weekend. Since the actual number of participants was about half of the 500 projected entries, there were plenty of seats/sofas/tables to set up your place.

One player described the venue as the ‘World’s Largest Man Cave.”

Like any proper “man cave,” the space had a myriad of TV screens showing games with others updating the current leaderboard. At times, the coordination of which screens were showing what games could have been better. As the Chiefs vs. Colts game was underway on Saturday, there were still a number of screens devoted to a Big Ten Women’s basketball game.

No offense to the Lady Terps, there’s no legal betting (yet) on women’s college hoops.

Depositing and betting on DraftKings Sportsbook app

While not a representative sample for the entire contest, you seemingly were less likely to have any depositing/betting issues if you were already an established NJ-based DraftKings Sportsbook account holder.

Some players in from outside New Jersey had some challenges in establishing their account, but most were fine. Since $2.5 million in total prize money was there for the taking with less than half of the slots filled, some journeyed to Hoboken looking to purchase a last-minute entry on the eve of the tournament.

There were some issues around PayPal regulations and wiring of funds. Also, there was a DraftKings stipulation that any cash buy-in had to be made on site at their Resorts brick-and-mortar sportsbook in Atlantic City.

As AC is a five-hour roundtrip drive from Jersey City, it’s unreasonable to ask for an out-of-town player to have to make that trek in order to establish a bankroll.

I also noted some challenges related to placing a bet at the venue. Perhaps a combination of issues related to location verification or the number of devices connected to Wi-Fi, but I watched as one player had to load/reload his 10-team parlay several times, having to scramble to re-enter it again and try to submit before the first game started.

DraftKings championship format and timing

Since it was the first of its kind, the DraftKings Sports Betting National Championship did its best to set up the parameters and rules/regulations around the start/finish of the tournament. Some felt that a 12 noon Friday was too early of a start.

If you were NJ-based, you were ready to fire at 12:01 p.m. But for some traveling in from out of town, allowing time to get an entry established, their DraftKings sportsbook app set up, and cash deposited, 12 noon is too early.

As a reminder, all bets could only be placed while physically located in New Jersey.

Another player could be building his bankroll by cashing in on Friday afternoon golf or tennis bets, while an out-of-towner is dealing with DraftKings help desk or on the phone with PayPal, which is less than ideal.

DK did receive compliments for installing the Saints vs. Eagles as the final betting event of the contest.

Once the game started, there were no further in-play bets permitted. This eliminated the potential “stabbing” scenario in which smaller bankroll players throw money at long-shot bets with the hope of a long-shot score to get them into contention.

DraftKings help and support

The NJ sportsbook app had an office/help desk on-site at the Jersey City venue to answer any questions and provide needed tech support.

DraftKings management, including new Operations Lead Johnny Avello, were accessible and available, making continual rounds to check-in and interact with the tourney contestants.

What should be changed for future DraftKings contests?

Of course, timely, consistent grading of bets for all players will be at the top of the list for DraftKings to sort out before the next tournament.

Since it’s DraftKings’ first foray, there is always room to improve. And I wanted to make some suggestions on ways to enhance/improve the overall tourney experience from qualifiers through to the final day.

Qualifying related to sports betting not DFS

DraftKings utilized their daily fantasy sports platform as the primary means of qualifying for the SBNC.

While it’s always debatable, the DFS player and the sports bettor have different approaches and skill sets. Why not take a page from horse racing feeder contests that utilize a pre-set menu of races over a specific time period with a mythical bankroll to qualify entrants into their biggest tournament events.

Start time of championship

The Friday start as part of a weekend is good, but I suggest a later start to coincide with the start of the NBA, NHL or college basketball games that evening.

As mentioned earlier, this also gives out-of-town participants more time to get their feet on the ground and resolve any logistical issues during the day.

Communication during the Live Event

The Saturday/Sunday tournament was mostly absent any “voice” as a host/moderator.

I am not suggesting a person tries to hijack the event like a bad wedding DJ. But maybe use someone that could consistently flag timely reminders (i.e. “the 2 p.m. college basketball games go live in 15 minutes”) and provide leaderboard scoring updates (“Player X has just cashed a five-team parlay for $30,000 to vault them into the top five”).

This voice would have been helpful for updates and announcements as the tournament wound down on Sunday afternoon/evening.

As 2018 was a year of many firsts in NJ sports betting, the DraftKings Sports Betting National Championship helped get 2019 off to a quick start for innovations within the industry.

Tournaments/contests will no doubt become part of the landscape as sports betting is legalized in more states and overall handle in New Jersey grows. Despite some of the first event bumps and bruises, kudos to DraftKings for making the first bet in this space.

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Mike McGough

Mike's consultancy advises clients in such areas as media buying, sponsorship analyses, and procurement best practices. Additionally, as a New Jersey-based sports fan and handicapper, he provides a unique perspective from business operations all the way to the betting windows.

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