Meet Fanto: a revolutionary take on Daily Fantasy Sports

For as long as there has been sport, there has been a desire to predict what’s going to happen in it. Predictions make it possible for fans to get involved, to give sporting fandom a social element. And from predictions came the rise of betting; and the mega-money market that the betting sector is in the UK today.

But one of the emerging modes of sporting prediction in the UK is fantasy sports.

The fantasy sports sector isn’t exactly new to these shores, but it looks to be on the verge of taking off into new directions: the Fantasy Premier League’s website claims to have over 3.5m players this year. There are a lot of devotees.

The market isn’t simply populated by the Fantasy Premier League, though. Fantasy games are becoming so popular that there is a demand for greater choice and greater variety in the market. We sat down with James Pope, the founder of daily fantasy sports company Fanto for a chat about his company, and the lay of the land in the fantasy sports market.

“The first thing we really want to stress with Fanto is that it’s not just fantasy football – it is legitimately about fantasy sports. At the moment, we’re running fantasy games around the US Open and this year we’ve done cricket, we’ve done golf, and we’ve done Formula 1.”

It’s the term ‘fantasy football’ that sticks, though. A term that rolls off the tongue much more readily than ‘fantasy sports’; up until this point, it’s really all we’ve known.

That’s one of the things that makes Fanto different. Football might be huge, but there are plenty of fans of other sports. And, of course, there’s a massive crossover too. There are plenty of football fans who want to predict the outcome of the Ryder Cup later this month too, for example.

“Fanto is three things: it is multi sport, it is simple to use, and it’s a one-stop shop for fantasy sports.”

But when a market is new and emerging, there is a huge importance on knowing your audience as well as having a great product. When James founded Fanto four years ago, he was still working a job in the City. It’s a love of and passion for fantasy sport games that persuaded him to found the company: “serendipity”, he tells me – “I always knew I needed to scratch that itch!”

In a way, that seems to sum up Fanto as a platform. It is built for players to casually dip in and out, a simpler way to play. Fanto, unlike other fantasy sport games, doesn’t include a budget for picking players, and you can play in weekly leagues as well as over the whole season. “When we were setting up Fanto, we didn’t want to add a budget because that would mean having to review the valuations from week to week, so we actually did it to make life simpler for ourselves. And there was an element of serendipity where we quite quickly realised this is a very good idea!”

There’s a real ‘for us; by us’ feel to the set-up. James is a fan of fantasy sports and created the game to be fun for fantasy players. Fanto is for players to scratch their own itches: to bet, and to play fantasy sport whenever they want, without needing to meticulously tend to their team multiple times a week.

“Conventionally you’d pick a team at the beginning of the season, and 80% of the players would have a bad first few weeks and never bother logging in, again until next summer when you’re full of hope and expectations again – meanwhile you’re faced with some busy guy in the office who sits down on a Thursday and plans out which subs he’s going to make for the next four weeks!”

One of the aims seems to be to take away that delayed gratification element, to condense the timeframe into bitesize chunks, if that’s what you want to do. “It starts at the first whistle of the first game of the day and finishes at the final whistle of the last game of the day.” But you can, of course, play over the course of the whole season, too.

Gambling laws in the United States are what we have to thank for fantasy sports. Strict laws around gambling mean that fantasy games are the only way to put money on a sporting event without going to a casino or a race track.

In Britain, the culture has been much more overtly about betting. From the football pools of the past to Ray Winstone’s dismembered head giving you the latest real-time odds, betting is the way Britain predicts sport.

So there is an element of that built into Fanto. There are two types of players: the casual, challenge your mates type, and those who want to flutter a few quid. It’s clear that there are plenty of people want to gamble on sport, and football isn’t the only one. But how does ‘fantasy football’ work in other sports?

“I’m a firm believer that there’s solution to everything: there’s a way to play every fantasy sport. But sometimes you have to tailor the method to fit. For example in cricket, we reduced the amount of players you could pick to nine, rather than eleven. When you could pick eleven, we were worried about commonality and everyone picking the same players, but when we reduced the number to nine – three bowlers, three batsmen, two all-rounders and a wicketkeeper – we saw the dispersion was greater again.”

Perhaps the biggest challenge for Fanto is what happens when the market settles down. At the moment it is growing, but will there be room for more than one big player in the market? Or will one eat the others? And what does Fanto do to grow?

James laughs, “We have two big innovations planned, but off the record I might tell you what they are one day!”

Can’t he give me more than that?

“Well, one is a different way of playing the game, and one is a different way of picking your team. I can’t give our competition too much of a head start, but I’m really excited about them, I’m actually excited to roll them out!”


If Fanto aims to be different by creating a different game, that will stand them in good stead. But perhaps the most important asset in their favour is James’s enthusiasm. He has made his hobby into his business – it’s a leap of faith in many ways.

But whilst others might look on a growing market like the fantasy sports sector in the UK as an opportunity to make money, James seems to look on it as a chance to create a game he and his friends want to play. It’s a business too, of course, but the word “serendipity” comes up more than once when talking to James about Fanto. And it’s true, being able to start a business from the thing you love, from your passion, is a level of serendipity most people will never experience.

But there’s also a serendipity from a business perspective too: when you start a business like Fanto with the aim of creating a game you actually want to play then you find yourself in the perfect position. After all, when you and your friends are the very people your business should be set up to target, then you have an intimate knowledge of the market. And that makes everything easier to predict.

You can follow James on Twitter @popey1983 and follow Fanto @FantoAuction

About author

Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 800 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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