Is Buying And Selling of Lineups a Problem for Daily Fantasy Sports?

Selling DFS Lineups

The practice of people buying and selling lineups for use in daily fantasy sports has seen an increase in recent months, and it could be a serious issue for DFS players and the industry as a whole.

The basics

If you haven’t heard of the practice, it’s not terribly complicated:

  • Websites and/or DFS players put together draftable lineups that they claim to be optimal.
  • They put these lineups up for sale, or make them available as part of a subscription to a site, for whoever wants to purchase them.
  • DFS players use the purchased/subscription lineups to enter contests at DFS sites like FanDuelDraftKings and Victiv.

It sounds harmless on the surface, until you dig deeper into the ramifications of the practice of lineup buying and selling. It has been a hot topic at the forums at RotoGrinders.com (threads here and here).

Difference between expert advice and lineup selling?

There is seemingly a fine line between advice you can receive on fantasy news, strategy and portal sites like RotoGrinders, et al, and the practice of just getting lineups from another source.

Sites like RotoGrinders give you plenty of tools to set lineups, advice on good players to draft, etc. They will not give exact lineups to play.

Then there are sites that will simply give you a lineup that fits within the salary cap and can be played as-is, with no other thought or action required. This can result in a lot of duplicate entries, especially in the smaller, fixed-size league or “cash” games. Players at FanDuel have been noticing this happen more often recently, at least anecdotally.

The problem with selling and buying lineups

Buying and selling of lineups isn’t as a much of a problem in the guaranteed prize pool contests, which feature huge fields, and a purchased lineup is likely a very small percentage of the entire field.

The problem enters with the cash games and 50/50 contests, where it’s possible to play against a number of players using the same lineups– especially at FanDuel. Why? It increases the odds of chopping a tournament’s prize pool (splitting it more ways than intended), resulting in less equity. And it makes it even more difficult for even a good player to beat the rake (the fees taken by a DFS site in any contest) over the long haul.

It also impacts the DFS economy. There is already a pretty huge skill gap between the pro DFS player and the casual, recreational player, and a big disparity in the amount of money each will win, long term. Some of the contest winnings might be getting into the hands of recreational players who wouldn’t win regularly without buying a lineup. But buying lineups also means more money is being consolidated in the hands of the DFS pros as a result of this practice, especially as it becomes a more common. Additionally, some regular players avoid certain contests/players, because they know they are going against a block of identical entries.

Finally, some also argue that selling lineups amounts to a form of collusion. A top player selling his (or her) lineup to other players — since he has a finite number of cash or 50/50 contests to enter, because they are “single-entry” — is basically using lineup sales to get around the rules and profit, the argument goes.

Of course, there is some dispute of the quality of the lineups being sold, although at least some people considered pros or experts are doing it. But it’s clear that pros do have an incentive to sell their lineups, and they can profit as much, if not more, by selling their lineups to enough players.

Possible solutions?

A few ideas have been floated for combatting lineup buying and usage, or lessening its impact:

  • FanDuel and DraftKings could create algorithms to identify players that consistently use the same lineups as other players. Under this possible idea, players who use the same lineups as another player x number of times could be told to cease and desist the practice, or else face being banned from playing at the site.
    Obviously this would take some programming on the sites’ parts. And, in the short-term, it’s possible this practice could hurt revenue for FD and DK, although certainly not to a point that it’s going to cripple them.
  • The number of identical lineups for a contest can be capped at some arbitrary percentage, such as 5% of all lineups. In this model, if a player were to set a lineup and 5% of the field has already used that lineup, they would have to alter their lineup in some way in order to enter the contest.
  • A group of DFS players buys the subscriptions, then publishes them free on the internet/Twitter. That would obviously hurt the bottom line of the companies that are selling lineups.
  • Increasing the size of the “cash game” and 50/50 contests.

The first three would obviously lessen the market for lineup buying and selling. The final one would simply lessen the impact of duplicate lineups.

Right now, we have little sense that FanDuel or DraftKings is going to address the issue at all. But they might be wise to do so before it gets out of hand. It is not out of the realm of possibility to envision the day when everyone in a 10-person league enters the same lineup. And a development like that certainly would not be good for the long-term health of the DFS industry.