Underdog Blows Up Best Ball With $15 Million Flagship Tourney

Underdog Blows Up Best Ball With $15 Million Flagship Tourney

While best ball-style fantasy is not new, its growth in recent years is a direct result of Underdog Fantasy, the company founded by Jeremy Levine. And it’s no wonder Underdog has been barking, as Levine is an old soul in the world of daily fantasy, founding both StarStreet and DRAFT. 

What started in 2020 with a then-shocking $1 million tournament — Best Ball Mania — has now grown into a $15 million flagship tournament in its fourth year, with the winner of this year’s Best Ball Mania IV taking home a $3 million prize.

When this contest dropped, it was pretty much the biggest news of the day in the sports betting world. And with good reason, as this is the biggest fantasy tournament of all time.

Best Ball Mania IV is LIVE!

$15,000,000 in total prizes, $3,000,000 to 1st Place, our biggest tournament ever. pic.twitter.com/WXcacJNIP1

— Underdog Fantasy (@UnderdogFantasy) April 29, 2023

But Underdog’s not done yet.

“We need to find a way to make bigger work,” said Nick Rudman, general manager of commercial growth for the company. “I think some of the things we did with regular-season prizes are the best way to get this tournament to $20 million, $30 million, $40 million.”

Last year, Underdog introduced a $1 million prize to the team that had the highest regular-season score. This year, Underdog has expanded that pot, with $5 million — or a full third of the prize pool — going to various regular-season prizes.

Not everyone is thrilled with the change.

“That’s 75% of the prize pool dedicated to the very, very top teams. Last year, between the regular season champ and the week 17 finalists, that made up 60% of the entire prize pool.”https://t.co/3CUYhxzFrC

— Spike Week 🚀 (@SpikeWeek) May 1, 2023

Say and do

“There’s two ways to measure success when it comes to Best Ball Mania,” Rudman said. “It’s what people do, and what people say. What people do is simple. It’s in the math. We’ve done over 30,000 entries in a week since launch. That is significantly more than half of Best Ball Mania I (in total). In terms of growing the game, we feel pretty good about what people are doing.

“What people say is more complex and a little more important than what they do,” Rudman continued. “We want people to like us, we want people to think we’re competent, and we don’t want to think — when we get negative feedback — that we’re not wrong, the market is wrong. There’s a vocal minority of people we care about, and we got a little negative reaction. I don’t think the market is wrong, but maybe the market hasn’t found its footing. But as a business, we’ll re-evaluate once it’s all paid out and see what people think.”

Underdog isn’t alone in the big-time world of tournament best ball. DraftKings’ flagship tournament — $10 to enter, compared to Underdog’s $25 — has grown this year to nearly 1.2 million entries. (Underdog is at a shade over 677,000 potential entrants). And while DraftKings is “only” paying $1 million to its winner, its payout structure is much flatter at the top.

For instance, DraftKings’ 10th place finisher will win $100,000, while at Underdog, 10th place is good for $30,000. (DraftKings does not pay out for regular-season accomplishments.)

“I’m glad for best ball users that they have many options and that the options are improving,” Rudman said. “And I also like when other companies try formats we’re not trying — in this case, over a million entries. Excited to see the feedback on that.”

As for the payout structure? 

“I like our structure, I wouldn’t change it, and there’s been little to no criticism of our top-heavy structure,” Rudman said. “But I do think it’s good there’s a difference out there, between top heavy and flatter payouts.”

A third best ball company with big payouts — and a different format with no playoff weeks, just 17 weeks of regular-season action — is Drafters, which is offering a $2 million prize pool this year, with $300,000 going to the first-place winner.

Seems like a pretty big day in Best Ball

New contests launched:

– Drafters $2 Million Best Ball Championship ($300k to 1st)
– DraftKings $10 entry $10 Million Tournament ($1 Million to 1st)
– DraftKings $555 $2.6 Million Tournament ($1 Million to 1st) pic.twitter.com/I3tK32T7Ub

— Spike Week 🚀 (@SpikeWeek) May 3, 2023

Year of best ball?

Between the three flagship tournaments, there is $27 million up for grabs, plus smaller tournaments — such as the recently launched “Puppy” on Underdog — that will pepper the calendar up to kickoff for Week One. There are also larger contests that Underdog will have, and DraftKings has already posted its $555 entry, $2.6 million tourney.

Then there’s playoff best ball, as well as numerous pre-NFL draft tournaments that have already been completed. Hence, it feels safe to say this is the year best ball has achieved liftoff.

Or is it?

“I don’t think it has exploded yet,” Rudman said. “My friends who play fantasy football, who have been in leagues for 20 years, they don’t play best ball, don’t even play Underdog to support me. I haven’t converted them yet and I think that’s true for a ton of people. There’s still a long way to go.”

And as for those — this author included — who have discovered best ball and can’t get enough of it?

“Part of what I think is that people who grew up playing fantasy football in the ’90s and 2000s don’t have the time — at least this age group — to manage teams anymore, but still love drafting,” Rudman said. “And we were able to create what amounts to Candy Crush or Tetris for football fans.”

Photo: Getty Images

Author: Ryan Gonzales