Athletes Unlimited announced a late-season marketing deal with DraftKings to enhance fan experience as the final week of play in the league’s debut season—softball—starts on Friday in Rosemont, Ill. As the first professional women’s softball league to work with DraftKings, Athletes Unlimited will offer fans a “free-to-play pool” challenge through the partnership, available on the DraftKings Sportsbook and Daily Fantasy apps.
Athletes Unlimited co-founder and CEO Jon Patricof told Sportico the deal is primarily driven by a desire to create additional ways for fans to engage with the leagues.
“Central to our strategy is giving fans as many ways to engage around our leagues,” Patricof said. “And for DraftKings, the appeal of the deal was their ability to reach new customers that have been following Athletes Unlimited but might not be on the DraftKings platform yet.”
While late in the softball season for the partnership to start, the deal could help Athletes Unlimited make inroads into the online betting space ahead of its second sport: its indoor volleyball season is set to debut in early 2021.
“We’re extremely proud to work with an industry leader like DraftKings to bolster our virtual fan experience,” Jon Patricof, co-founder and of Athletes Unlimited said in a press release. “We look forward to building our relationship with DraftKings as we continue to engage with our passionate and knowledgeable fans.”
A network of professional women’s sports leagues founded by Patricof and investor Jonathan Soros, Athletes Unlimited also recently announced a mid-season deal with The Topps Company for a trading card set commemorating the inaugural softball league—Topps’ first women’s professional softball set.
ESPN and CBS Sports have broadcast Athletes Unlimited’s inaugural softball season, splitting domestic and limited international distribution. The Olympic Channel secured additional international OTT distribution rights to live stream all 30 games through more than 180 territories outside of the North American regions covered by ESPN and CBS. Financial details of the media rights arrangements weren’t disclosed, nor were the details of the DraftKings deal.
September has seen a steady string of announcements from DraftKings, which went public in April through a ‘business combination’ with SBTech and publicly-listed Diamond Eagle Acquisition Corp. In early September, former NBA star and Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan joined the online betting company as an advisor to the board. Twenty-four hours after that announcement, DraftKings inked a multi-year sports betting deal with the Chicago Cubs that includes the installation of a physical sports outside of Wrigley Field.
Wrigley itself is just 15 miles east of Parkway Bank Sports Complex where Athletes Unlimited’s softball season has been played in its entirety and will conclude on Sept. 28. Home to teams in every major U.S. sport, Illinois has proved a popular betting market and, according to Athletes Unlimited’s strategy, one that will take to less mainstream sports as well.
Still this month, DraftKings was also announced as ESPN’s exclusive provider of daily fantasy sports games and a sportsbook link-out provider to the media giant. A deal with the New York Giants came next, continuing the push into sports franchise partnerships.