After months of no live sports, baseball season has finally kicked off — only to see some games postponed almost immediately because of a coronavirus outbreak on the Miami Marlins. But the head of a top sports betting site says he isn’t worried.
Matt King, CEO of FanDuel, is hopeful the return of team sports in the US won’t turn out to be short-lived. And he isn’t nervous about his business, which lets people wager on sporting events in certain states and participate in fantasy sports contests.
“All of the sports leagues have invested heavily to put the right safety procedures in place,” King said.
On Tuesday, Major League Baseball postponed three games after a number of players and coaches on the Miami Marlins tested positive for Covid-19, fueling concerns that the entire season could be put on hold.
King said in an interview with CNN Business that FanDuel is prepared for the possibility that major US sports leagues may have to end seasons prematurely. After all, the company has already dealt with a Covid-19 induced sports vacuum this spring.
Demand for betting on sports like horse racing and European soccer have helped cushion the blow, King said. He added that wagering on baseball games so far this year has been more than the company expected and that demand for FanDuel’s fantasy baseball products are up more than three times from the start of the 2019 season.
“People are looking for a distraction in this tough time,” King said. “They are appreciative that sports are back.”
And though King thinks an outbreak in baseball was an “inevitability” given how frequently baseball teams travel and the number of games they play, he doesn’t believe baseball or other leagues will need to suspend seasons.
Basketball and hockey are also both set to resume their seasons later this week, and unlike baseball, they have neutral location “bubbles:” The NBA is playing entirely in Orlando while the NHL is splitting its games between Toronto and Edmonton.
The start of professional football is also looming on the horizon, with the NFL set to kick off in September. Football tends to be the biggest draw for both gambling as well as fantasy games. These are big reasons why investors in the nascent business of legal sports betting have been excited lately.
“The NFL, as luck would have it, will be able to learn from baseball and basketball. Weeks matter. The benefit of experience will be material,” King said.
The stakes are high not just for FanDuel but for the entire sports-betting sector.
Shares of Flutter Entertainment (PDYPF), the owner of FanDuel as well as the UK’s Paddy Power and Betfair, have doubled from their lows in late March and are now up nearly 30% this year.
FanDuel’s top rival DraftKings, which went public earlier this year through a merger with a “blank check” company, has also skyrocketed since it began trading – despite a relative dearth of live sports. The stock fell Monday following the news of the Marlins coronavirus cases.
Casino company Penn National Gaming (PENN), which owns a significant minority stake in Barstool Sports, is up nearly 35% in 2020 as well.
DraftKings told CNN Business “the health and safety of the athletes and sports community should always be the first priority, and we commend the leagues and teams for taking this process seriously and making decisions based on what’s best for the health of their teams.”
The company added that “while our business in the short term is partially dependent on the sports calendar, we have always said we are playing the long game.”
Penn and Barstool did not comment for this story, citing a regulatory quiet period before Penn is set to release quarterly earnings on August 6.