Daily Fantasy Leagues for Dummies (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Making Millions and Love the Double Ups)

You see the commercials literally every commercial break while watching football (or any sport for that matter), and perhaps you’re thinking to yourself, “What the heck is this DraftKings/Fanduel and how do I get rich off it?”

Well never fear, I’m here to help you slowly, but surely make money from daily fantasy leagues.

Fantasy football has been a staple of the football world for a while now. It’s always been a competition between friends to see who knows the most about football and who can play their cards right. Now fantasy is everywhere, in every sport, and even in video games. You can play fantasy basketball, baseball, racing, hockey, college sports, and all kinds of fun games.

The problem with fantasy sports used to be that you had to commit to the entire season in order to actually play them right. Sports seasons last about half a year, so this is a big time commitment. I can’t tell you how many times people flake out part of the way through the season because they either A) don’t care enough to keep playing once the hype from the start of the season dies down, or B) are losing so bad, it’s not worth playing anymore.

The answer? Daily fantasy leagues. Why commit to a whole season when you can play one day (or one weekend) and be done with it?

FanDuel was the first major site to do daily fantasy leagues that I can recall. Even I was skeptical at first to jump in and do it. It wasn’t until DraftKings bought every piece of advertising they could, and dangled a million dollar event in front of me, that I finally bought in and gave it a shot. The first event I ever did was the PGA Millionaire event for the PGA Championship back in early August. $2 million prize pool with $1 million going to first place. The entry fee was only $20 so I thought, hey, why not?

Needless to say, I didn’t win anything.

I realized that I needed to save my money and wait for football season where I actually knew what the heck was going on.

NFL Week 1 had a millionaire event again, except this time it was a $10 million prize pool, with $2 million to first, and $1 million to second. This was much more intriguing to me, so I entered.

I also entered a college contest on week one with my last $10 of the initial $50 I deposited. I thought that if I didn’t win in college OR pro football, that daily fantasy leagues weren’t for me and I’d quit.

The college contest I entered was a double up contest. That means that as long as you finish in a money position, you double your money, which for me would have been $20. I won, so I was up to $20 in my account. I played $10 in week two, and won again, so I was up to $30.

Then came week one of the NFL season. I had already entered the millionaire event, but I decided to take that $30 and invest it in a double up because I was 2 for 2 in them. So I stepped it up a bit and entered a $25 double up where I would win $50.

I won again, and also made $35 in the millionaire event, so all of a sudden I was at $90, the majority of which I had won in a double up.

That’s when I realized – double ups and 50/50 events are the only way to go.

There are a few things you need to understand about playing daily fantasy leagues:

1) They promise to match your initial deposit up to a certain amount. However, you don’t actually get the money at first.

When you go to deposit money, you can put in anywhere from $5 to $2,000. Many of the commercials promise that they will match your deposit up to a certain amount, let’s say $100. So if you deposit $100, you may think you’ll actually start with $200. That’s not at all how it works.

You still only start with $100. They “release” money into your account after you have spent money to enter a contest. You earn what are called “Frequent Player Points” or FPP. DraftKings only releases $1 for every 100 Frequent Player Points you earn. For instance, I got 100 FPP for playing in a $25 contest. That earned me one dollar of the initial $50 I deposited when I started.

I have played in 14 contests that reward FPP. I have done some small, $1-$3 contests on the side in other sports just for fun that I haven’t mentioned. After all of the contests I’ve played in, I’ve only earned $6 of my $50 bonus. So don’t be fooled with the fact that you think you can deposit $10 to make $20.

2) Understand the math behind contests and take risks accordingly.

There is a reason I say play Double Ups and 50/50 contests.

In a double up, about the top 44-45% win. So if it’s an 11 player contest, then the top 5 will win. Then it doesn’t matter if you finish 5th or 1st, you’re winning $20 no matter what.

They also have 50/50 contests, which means the top 50% win, but you win just a bit less than double your money so that DraftKings can take a small cut. So if there are 20 people entered into a $10 50/50, the top 10 will win about $18 each.

The millionaire is nice and all, but in week one, there were 520,448 entries. I finished in the top 45,000, which paid out $35. That’s the top 8.6%. I made +$15 for finishing in the top 8.6%.

In the double up, I finished in the top 44%, and made +$25.

It’s simple math.

Where your choice comes into play is whether you feel confident enough to finish in the top 44% instead of the top 50% so that you can gain a couple of extra dollars to truly double your money. I feel that confident in football, so I play the double up.

3) You are not going to win a million dollars.

Now, you can finish in the top 0.000003% and win a million bucks, but you can also win the mega millions in the lottery with a stupidly low percentage too, but that doesn’t mean you’re rushing to Georgia every week to buy tickets.

The dream of winning a million bucks is nice, but play the game the smart way. You don’t walk into a casino with $100 to play Blackjack and then play one $100 hand. You play ten $10 hands and slowly work your way up.

The people who are going to win the million dollars are going to have a lucky roster that no one would have picked with any super serious research. Marcus Mariota has been on rosters each week that have won a million or more dollars. That’s not a knock on Mariota, he’s playing really well, it’s just that no one would pick him over more seasoned players that cost the same or only slightly more.

4) Understand your budget in-game.

There is a reason Marcus Mariota has been on those rosters – because he’s cheap, yet effective. You get $50,000 to work with each week to pick a roster of 9 players, all with a price tag on them.

A popular choice at QB last week was Carson Palmer. He ended up with 22.2 points, which is a good day. Mariota ended up with 18.2. So you wonder, why did Marcus Mariota help other people win a million bucks and Carson Palmer only helped me win $50? The answer is their price tag. Mariota is a cheaper pick than a seasoned vet like Palmer, and the money saved on Mariota went to some cheaper RB/WR who had a huge day like a Travis Benjamin form Cleveland.

But you have to think about the bigger picture and imagine your total point layout once your team is set. Every team is going to have a few budget picks. You have to decide if it’s worth it to have a team full of budget picks that could do well vs. a team of 1-2 superstar players and a bunch of budget picks that may not do so well.

My team in week one shined because of Julio Jones, but despite being the best in the league, he won’t always provide you with a great fantasy day worthy of his really high price tag. It’s all about match-ups, more so than it is about the player themselves.

Julio Jones, Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, Rob Gronkowski – these are all players you’d love to have every week, but they aren’t feasible most of the time. Those four players leave you with only $18,100 left to work with for FIVE more players on your team. You’ve used 64% of your money on under half your roster.

5) Understand how many people you are playing against.

This is more about percentages. I’ve already convinced you to play double ups, but which double up is right for you? Think about the number of people you have to finish above and how confident you feel in yourself to finish within that certain position.

You can play double ups with as low as 11 people, but then only 5 are going to win money. I just played in one with 22,625 people, and the top 10,000 people won. I finished around 3k, so I doubled up.

But think about those 3,000 or so people that finished ahead of me. What if in that 11 person double up, the other 10 people were 10 of that 3,000. I would have had a good roster, but still finished dead last. It’s much easier to be 1 of 10,000 than to be 1 of 5.

So when playing double ups and 50/50’s, get a feel for the amount of people in it and your chances to finish within a certain number of people.

6) It’s all about playing the long game.

All of this goes to say – you have to play it slow. This is pretty much the rule in all gambling, but it’s definitely the case here. I think my double ups are proof of that.

My lineups have been decent, but nothing spectaular in both college and NFL, yet I have won every single week.

To make the same amount of money in the millionaire maker as I did in the double-up this past weekend, I would have had to finish in the top 15,000 of almost 500,000. Instead, by playing the double up, I only had to finish in the top 10,000 of 22,625. That’s finishing in the top 3% vs. finishing in the top 44%.

The millionaire maker is a lie.

Well…it’s not a lie, someone will win millions.

It just won’t be you.

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Jon Lunceford is a sports media broadcaster and digital professional. Jon is a graduate of the University of Alabama school of journalism, and played football at Birmingham-Southern College. He has also won two AHSAA Football State Championships while at Homewood High School and was a two-time World Cyber Games Team USA representative. He currently hosts Primetime on WJOX 94.5 and runs the high school athletics site JoxPreps.