It’s exactly the type of deal that the NFLPA had in mind last year when it helped launch OneTeam Partners, a firm designed to leverage the stardom of athletes like Patrick Mahomes or DeShaun Watson and the capital associated with their names and likenesses. OneTeam, which facilitated the deal, approaches the industry through four main verticals—group licensing, marketing, content creation and venture investing—and this deal involves all four.
In addition to the equity stake, the NFLPA will allow Monkey Knife Fight to use its marks and athlete likenesses, commit athletes to marketing efforts and also assist in the creation and distribution of Monkey Knife Fight videos and tutorials.
“Monkey Knife Fight is the development of where we have always viewed players in this business,” said NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, who is also a OneTeam board member. “We believe that players drive this business, and now we know that players can be part owners in this business.”
Monkey Knife Fight is the largest daily fantasy operator in the country that isn’t named DraftKings or FanDuel. While those much larger companies pursue legal sports betting and online casino games in specific states around the country, Monkey Knife Fight has gone the opposite direction. It has stayed fantasy only (for now), and invested a lot of money specifically in states where online casino and sports betting isn’t yet legal.
The exact size of the NFLPA’s equity stake is unclear; Monkey Knife Fight CEO Bill Asher said only that it was “significant.”
“Fantasy sports was never about the teams, it was never about their team owners, but when fantasy sports was growing, who got the lion’s share of the money out of that? It was the owners; it wasn’t the players,” Asher said. “It is time now for players to be owners in fantasy sports.”
Monkey Knife Fight’s long-term plan is to eventually pivot to sports gambling. Should that happen, it seems likely the NFLPA will keep its equity.
“Part of the structure of OneTeam and the NFL Players Association allows us to shield players directly from some of those issues,” said Ahmad Nassar, OneTeam’s CEO. “But the whole industry is evolving.”
OneTeam is a joint venture between the NFLPA, the MLBPA and RedBird Capital Partners. The group represents commercial interests of both unions, plus the players associations for the MLS, U.S. women’s national soccer team and the WNBA. Nassar said there were opportunities to expand on the deal with other unions.
“The one-word answer is, Yes,” he said. “Stay tuned. Many more to come.”