Formula One today announced that it had acquired a stake in PlayON, a sports entertainment company valued at £30 million.
The deal is part of a strategic partnership that will see PlayON become Formula One’s official fantasy gaming partner, and which will eventually see the live integration of F1 TV across PlayON’s streaming service.
Ahead of the launch, ESPN spoke with Formula One director of digital and new business Frank Arthofer and PlayON founder and CEO Killian Jones to discuss the partnership.
“PlayON is pleased to be entering this partnership with Formula One,” said Jones. “The global appeal of Formula One makes it an ideal strategic partner. A key aspect of the deal relates to the live Formula One races being present on the PlayON platform. The combination of live sport and PlayON’s daily fantasy games will provide a fully immersive entertainment experience to our customers around the world.”
It is the live sport element that makes the PlayON deal of particular interest to the non-gamer, although details are currently vague.
“There will be an integration at some point in the future with F1 TV on PlayON’s platforms,” Arthofer said. “That will be an opportunity for fans to — we use the term ‘play and watch’, which we think is a really unique experience. So at some point in the future you will see that that’s made available to fans on PlayON’s platforms.”
Formula One made the first approach, with Arthofer contacting Jones to discuss a possible partnership following the latter’s established success in other sports markets.
“We were aware of Killian’s partnership with the NBA,” explained Arthofer, “and as a fantasy player myself — a fan of the space — I believe that the product and the strategy they have taken in the market is a winning one, so we approached Killian.”
What separates this deal from existing Formula One partnerships is that the commercial rights holder has taken an undisclosed stake in the firm, a first for the business.
“We can’t disclose that [the size of the stake], but it is a long-term partnership, and we believe in the fantasy space and in the daily fantasy space,” Arthofer said. “You’ll see us in this space for years to come — we absolutely do see it as a growth area. Commercially, but more importantly as a way to engage new fans and deepen F1’s relationship with our existing fans.”
Fantasy gamers will be eligible for prizes, although strict adherence to local regulations mean that real money play will only be available in certain territories — currently the United Kingdom, Ireland, and Australia. For global fantasy gamers, however, league success could lead to grand prix tickets and experience-based prizes
“For free-play users in territories outside of [the UK, Ireland, and Australia] we’re having Formula One specific prizing,” Jones explained, “with experiential prizing and some merchandise prizing as well.”
While Arthofer would not be drawn on whether this marked the beginning of a broader investment strategy for Formula One, the new business boss sees the thus far largely untapped — for F1 — gaming market as a significant driver of future growth for the sport.
“The headline for us is that fantasy and gaming is a space that we really do believe in, and you will see us continue to invest both on an owned and operated perspective as well as through a licensing and partnerships programme in that space,” Arthofer said.
“Part of the deal with PlayON, we’re partnering to launch our own F1 fantasy game on our platforms as well. We think there’s an opportunity to engage a significant number of fans. It’s been proven by all the other sports leagues that fans spend more time with us, more time watching events, as a result of playing fantasy. So definitely it’s an important opportunity, and it’s an area that will support other elements of the business, like TV viewers, not purely the digital side.”