When the North Carolina Lottery released the names of the first sports betting applicants last week, the list featured the usual suspects. It surprised no one to see DraftKings, FanDuel, Fanatics, bet365, BetMGM, ESPN BET, and Caesars seeking licenses, but one name did stand out.
Underdog Sports was one of the seven companies to file for a North Carolina sports betting operator’s license by Dec. 27, the Lottery Commission’s recommended deadline for sportsbooks that wish to go live on the yet-to-be-announced launch date. The Brooklyn-based company does not have a sports betting app live anywhere – Underdog has been approved for a license in Ohio – but it’s a national player in daily fantasy sports. Its games are available in more than 40 states and the District of Columbia, including North Carolina.
Jeremy Levine, Underdog’s founder and co-CEO, maintains an active presence on social media and uses that platform to talk about the sports gaming industry. BetCarolina.com spoke with Levine in October as he was preparing to unveil GuardDog, the company’s $1 million initiative to spur innovation in responsible gambling. Levine did not disclose any intention about seeking a license for Underdog Sports North Carolina to join other NC sportsbook apps at the time, but he did share his thoughts on the sports betting industry – Underdog previously was approved for a license in Ohio – and where he felt his company fit within it.
‘Playing The Long Game’
Levine said Underdog could have launched its sports betting app a while back if it wanted to follow the same route as other operators. However, he said company leaders chose to develop the platform in-house, even if it took more time to get to market.
“We’re playing the long game,” he said. “We want to build the biggest company in this space, the best company for sports fans in America, the best products for sports fans in America, and to build something different, we had to build our own technology.”
Underdog has more than 100 engineers working on its sports betting product, which Levine said will offer “an entirely different experience” for users.
What could that entail? Levine offers a social media example to make his point.
“Why do people use Instagram when you can do all the same things on Facebook?” he said. “You can share photos. You can like photos. You can comment on those. You can do those all on Facebook. Why Instagram? It’s because it’s a better customer experience for the things that customers actually want to do today.
“Product innovation, what’s best for consumers, always wins.”
What U.S. Sports Betting Consumers Want
Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s PASPA decision nearly six years ago opened the door for every state to legalize sports betting, Levine said that the sportsbooks that are now available are essentially built off the same template that was created in Europe back at the turn of the century.
“If you think about the customer today, we’re so different than who the sportsbook was built for,” he said.
Millions of Americans play fantasy sports, fill out NCAA Tournament bracket sheets, buy Super Bowl squares and compete in Survivor leagues. Those are concepts that differ from how Europeans consume sports. In addition, major European sports like soccer, rugby and Formula 1 are continuous action, compared to the major U.S. sports that feature breaks in the action.
Beyond that, Levine said millions of American sports fans who grew up playing fantasy sports have attachments to players rather than teams. Then, there’s the technology issue. Nearly all of a sports consumer’s activity takes place online, and a sports betting app modeled after a traditional sportsbook setup does not cater to those fans.
“It’s so obvious how the products that can and should be built for them are different than what was built 20 years ago,” Levine said. “That’s an opportunity.”
And it’s an opportunity Levine said Underdog can seize. While FanDuel and DraftKings may have enjoyed a head start in sports betting, Levine said his company has more customers and more revenue than either one of those when they moved into sports betting.
“You can look at what they’ve done in the last five years,” he said. “We have the opportunity to do that and better over the next five.”
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