After a soft opening at the end of September, the DraftKings Fantasy Sports Bar & Lounge will open at Staples Center for the Los Angeles Kings season opener in October. 

In what looks to be the start of a new sponsorship and activation trend, daily fantasy sports companies DraftKings and Draft Ops have entered into similar partnerships, one on the West Coast and one on the East. Staples Center, Los Angeles, and DraftKings have teamed up for a three-year marketing partnership, making DraftKings the exclusive daily fantasy sports partner of the arena and its tenant teams and creating the DraftKings Fantasy Sports Bar & Lounge. The NHL’s New York Islanders and Barclays Center, New York, have aligned with Draft Ops for a three-year sponsorship deal that includes the Draft Ops Ice Club and Draft Ops Fantasy Lounge. 

For Staples Center, it all started when Fox Sports pulled out of the 8,000-sq.-ft. Sky Box restaurant a few years ago. After filling the space with different memorabilia shows, Lee Zeidman, president, Staples Center/AEG, said they decided to move their Team L.A. store there last December, a move that has paid off in increased merchandise revenue. The move left a 4,400-sq.-ft. space on the main concourse empty. Initially, Zeidman said they were in talks with Levy about different restaurant concepts to fill it with before conversations with DraftKings began.  

“The DraftKings started becoming very prominent in the fantasy sports world, and our global partnerships group, led by Nick Baker, held some meetings with them regarding putting in a fantasy DraftKings bar and lounge,” said Zeidman.

For DraftKings, the opportunity to have an on-site presence at Staples Center made for an opportunity that was hard to pass up. Beyond the lounge, the partnership also includes integrated signage and promotion over the arena’s social media. 

“DraftKings has a lot of goals when entering a partnership, but one of the most important is activating and growing our user base,” said Jeremy Elbaum, DraftKings vice president of Business Development. “There was an opportunity that came out when they were considering putting in a restaurant on the L.A. Live side of the arena, and I just thought it was so unique, because that spot had so much exposure to walking traffic and obviously Staples Center is one of the best venues in the country in the sense that it holds three of the most prevalent sports teams in the country.”  

Staples Center worked with a couple of their other sponsors to make the lounge more than just a branded area, but a place where fans can really interact with DraftKings.

“DraftKings wants to make it a unique hospitality area for their users,” said Zeidman, “so we’ll have up to 35 Toshiba smart televisions, six Toshiba Virtuoso Screens, 15 Microsoft Surface Tablets and four iMacs that allow DraftKings users to come in there and set their lineups and things of that nature.”

Guests providing their DraftKings ID will receive discounts on food, beverages and other exclusive opportunities. Fans will be randomly chosen to receive prizes, special offers and even the opportunity to go inside Staples Center to watch the action from VIP seats provided by DraftKings.

“We came up with a whole slew of ideas where it was more than just a branded lounge, but we could get people to sign up via promotion on social media, contests, tons of kiosks and other devices throughout the restaurant and the wait staff is going to be fully trained on DraftKings,” said Elbaum. “Probably my favorite part is AEG is going to offer a discount on your bill if you make an account on DraftKings. In my opinion, that was really the finishing touch on the partnership, because it’s something so great for the people of the L.A. area, and it was such a great fit to get people signing up. It entails a win for everybody involved.”

The menu was created in conjunction with local chef Josiah Citrin and will include an offering of gourmet hot dogs and sliders as well as a full bar and frozen yogurt for dessert. They are scheduled to break ground on July 20 and have a soft opening near the end of September before the real opening in October for the Los Angeles Kings' opening game of the season. 

“Right now, it’ll be for ticketed people coming in an hour to two hours before and an hour after and we’ll see how successful it becomes,” said Zeidman. “We’ll have the ability to open it on dark days and open it up Sunday mornings for football games. But we want to get a good idea on how it operates before we determine exactly what we want to do in terms of hours of operation. We don’t want to get into a situation where we were with the Skybox, and we were competing against ourselves to try to drive traffic when traffic wasn’t there. We’re going to analyze it over the first two, three, four months.”

The ability to have a lounge that is open to nonticket-holders and on dark days was an attractive piece of the deal for DraftKings and added to the uniqueness of this opportunity. 

“We’re looking for unique ways to activate and spend dollars on creative ways we know will get us more players, but I don’t think there are many places in the country that can replicate what we're doing here,” said Elbaum, “just because it’s in a central spot where people can come and go, and I don’t know of many other venues that are holding as many teams with rabid fan bases, and I don’t know of many venues that can keep a portion of the venue open to the public the way they can. So I think it was a unique, once-in-a-blue-moon opportunity that we jumped on. That said, we are trying different things with a lot of different teams, but we feel like this is a very special and unique opportunity.”

The Fan Ops Ice Club will open at Barclays Center during New York Islanders games.

For Barclays Center, the appeal of working with Draft Ops came with being used by the daily fantasy sports website as a launching pad for their brand.

“No different from many other brands we work with, the attractive piece here was they’re going to use us as a vehicle to really launch their brand or make a big play in New York,” said Mike Zavodsky, Barclays Center’s executive vice president of Global Partnerships. “We like working with brands that use us as a centerpiece of their portfolio in terms of activation.”

And the centerpiece of the partnership is the Draft Ops Ice Club, which will be located directly next to the rink on the west end for all New York Islanders' games. The space will include major branding, extending from the glass through the first five rows.

“In putting together the partnership with them, brand visibility was obviously important for them,” said Zavodsky, “and we accomplished that through the Draft Ops Ice Club, because it’s a permanently branded, TV-visible location right behind the goal, but it also provides for interactivity where people can also kind of interface with the brand. So not only are they seeing it, but they’ll have the ability to engage with it as well.”

The Draft Ops Ice Club will be built out during hockey games, but the Draft Ops Fantasy Lounge will hold a permanent place on the concourse level. 

“I think core to the fantasy business in general is making sure you’re up to date and well informed on what’s going on, not only on a day by day basis, but also hour by hour, if not minute by minute in pro sports,” said Andrew Schwartz, Barclays Center’s senior vice president of Global Partnerships. “So in the lounge they’ll have TVs, they’ll have touch-screen displays and they’ll have tablets all with the Draft Ops app and interface on them so that the customers can come in and stay up to date on out-of-town scores and find updates on how other NHL teams are progressing in that evening’s action and how their fantasy players are performing. This also allows them to understand really what Draft Ops is all about and what daily fantasy is all about.”

As venues begin to explore this new phase of fan engagement and sponsorship, it will be interesting to see how interactive food and beverage offerings will become. For Staples Center, this is just the beginning of a food and beverage upgrade that will be rolling out over the next couple years.

“This is the beginning of what we believe is going to be a big food and beverage upgrade at Staples Center over the next two to three years where we’re actually going to create a food story here at the building with our partner Levy,” said Zeidman. “We’re 16 years old now, and we need to make sure we maintain this building to the level of satisfaction that our four tenants are used to and the 4 million people who come through the building, as well as the performers and the athletes.”

Interviewed for this story: Lee Zeidman, (213) 742-7255; Mike Zavodsky and Andrew Schwartz, (718) 942-9587; Jeremy Elbaum,  (641) 715-3580