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March Madness, CFB Championship Game Will Not Air Daily Fantasy Sports Ads

As the legality of daily fantasy sports (DFS) continues to be questioned, DFS operators such as DraftKings and Fanduel have seen their television advertising power take a hit. Daily fantasy sports ads will not be featured during the two largest events in college sports: the semifinal and championship games of the College Football Playoff and the NCAA's "March Madness" basketball tournament.

Both events are a boon for advertisers as they attract fans in droves. Kantar Media, a media tracking company, reported that advertisers paid $1.49 million for each 30-second spot during last year's NCAA Tournament. The tournament itself averaged 11.3 million viewers, including 28.3 million for the Duke/Wisconsin Final while last year's College Football Championship Game between Oregon and Ohio State was viewed by a record 33.4 million viewers.

That being said, the NCAA has made it a point to distance itself from daily fantasy sports, as it likens the games to gambling, a practice that would carry a steep penalty for any athletes participating in the activity, according to Mississippi State AD Scott Stricklin:

NCAA President Mark Emmert was in New York City last Wednesday to attend the IMG Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. Emmert stated that the NCAA was able to block daily fantasy sports ads during the NCAA Tournament based on its existing television contracts with CBS, Turner and ESPN, and that it was his intention to carry out that plan. He also stated that it would be hypocritical of the NCAA to work with DFS operators,

"I understand why we’re in this place, but I don’t like it,” Emmert said about having to pressure the NCAA’s TV partners.

“Here we’ve got rules that say if a student participates in this activity, you’ll be suspended,” Emmert said, “and oh by the way, we’re advertising it. I think that sends a completely bad message.” (via USA Today)

Emmert's preference aside, neither he nor the NCAA have control over the College Football Playoff. Notre Dame, as an independent university, and the 10 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences — the NCAA as an entity is completely uninvolved — control and manage the College Football Playoff, yet they, as a collective, share Emmert's sentiment. The New York Times received word last Wednesday from both ESPN and the Playoff's executive director that daily fantasy sports ads would not run during any of the semifinal games or the championship.

For its part, ESPN is in the second year of a 12-year, $7.3 billion contract to broadcast the Playoff, which consists of four high-profile bowl games, along with the semifinal and championship games. Disney, ESPN's parent company, also has an equity stake in DraftKings, and its branding is featured across ESPN media formats.

The decision to refrain from airing any daily fantasy sports ads during college football's largest events come at a tumultuous time for daily fantasy sports. DraftKings and FanDuel, by far the two largest operators, are facing legal challenges in multiple states, including a lawsuit in Florida that has also seen sports leagues added as defendants, and both operators are in the midst of ongoing litigation in New York, where their case will go before an appellate court in January of next year.

It will be interesting to see how it all shakes out, but these hits have to be taking a toll on DFS operators, putting the future in doubt … or at least somewhat on hold.

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