Stefon Diggs had a fantastic game last night, torching the Green Bay Packers and helping his team win in the first game at their new stadium. His nine catches and 182 yards with a touchdown also played a key role in securing Al Zeidenfeld first place in DraftKings’ biggest contest of the weekend, the NFL $5M Fantasy Football Millionaire. That’s a $1 million prize, even before his other Week 2 entries.
Zeidenfeld is a professional Daily Fantasy Sports player who’s become famous enough to get profiled by Maxim, but he’d never won the big one before, according to a rather subdued Periscope stream he put up after the game ended.
Zeidenfeld is also a regular DFS contributor to ESPN and, in his words, a “sponsored professional Daily Fantasy Sports player at DraftKings.com. On air personality and content provider for DraftKingsTV and Brand Ambassador/endorser.” It’s at least curious that the winner of DraftKings’ flagship contest is someone paid to give advice to his ostensible competitors, but a Draftkings contractor raking in a big prize is an unwelcome callback to last year’s controversies.
As DraftKings and FanDuel were peaking in popularity last year before a wave of anti-gambling legislation stunted their growth, the two companies got mixed up in an insider trading scandal that exposed a set of ethically opaque internal regulatory practices. DraftKings employee Ethan Haskell accidentally leaked lineup information from DraftKings’ flagship contest, then won $350,000 playing the analogous contest on FanDuel that same week.
In the fallout of that scandal, both companies decided to suspend their employees from walking across the aisle to play at their competitor’s site. Each had already enacted a ban on their own employees playing in their own contests, which doesn’t apply to Zeidenfeld because he’s not full-time.
Zeidenfeld told Deadspin that he has never been formally employed by DraftKings, and a DraftKings rep told Deadspin that Zeidenfeld has no inside info:
Al Zeidenfeld is an expert DFS player who is an independent contractor and brand ambassador, he shares his tips and expertise with the DFS player community. He is not a DraftKings employee, and does not have access to contest data or any other non-public company information.
Zeidenfeld did recommend several players he won with in his ESPN column this week, but mass entry DFS contests are won and lost with sleepers that vastly exceed their expected production, the way Diggs and Corey Coleman did for Zeidenfeld this week. If you are aware of lineup data before you pick your team, you have advance knowledge of which players will give you a higher relative advantage should they score.
Daily fantasy is dominated by sharks, who pull in an incredible majority of the money made in DFS. (The Wall Street Journal reported that 1.3 percent of the players in the first half of the 2015 MLB season won 91 of the money). The odds are already stacked against the average player, even before any potential conflicts of interest. By DraftKings’ definition of fraud, Zeidenfeld’s win is acceptable. Sponsored professional players receive money from DraftKings, are not DraftKings employees. Zeidenfeld’s podcast is sponsored by DraftKings, but it’s not a DraftKings podcast. Parsing the ethicality of Zeidenfeld’s win is a murky trip through the technical differences between “brand ambassador”, “sponsored player”, “content creator”, and “employee.” These terms of art help obscure a truth; a man who takes money from DraftKings played against hordes of non-professional players, and won a million-dollar prize.