Vernon Wells Tries Fantasy Basketball Seeking $1 Million Victory

Vernon Wells spent part of spring training sharing his baseball expertise with Toronto Blue Jays prospects. Now he’s focused on tapping his basketball knowledge to collect $1 million.

A former New York Yankees outfielder who hit 270 home runs over his 15-year Major League Baseball career, Wells is one of 40 qualifiers for this weekend’s Fantasy Basketball World Championship in Las Vegas. The biggest prize for basketball in the brief history of the booming daily fantasy sports market will be paid from entry fees collected by event organizer DraftKings Inc.

Wells, 36, was the third person to qualify for the championship, beating 179 other entrants in a one-day contest in January that cost $300 to enter. Wells, who started playing daily fantasy games a few months earlier during the National Football League season, said he’s pretty sure it was the first basketball event he’d entered.

“I didn’t even know what I qualified for,” Wells, a season-ticket holder for the National Basketball Association’s Dallas Mavericks, said in a telephone interview. “I had to call them to explain to me what the heck I actually won.”

Wells, who also has season tickets for the Dallas Cowboys, said he was involved in season-long NFL fantasy leagues against teammates during his playing career. He now counts himself a convert to daily play, the fastest-growing segment of the $3.6 billion fantasy sports industry.

Instant Gratification

Unlike season-long fantasy leagues, in which team owners draft players, daily play participants select a roster using a salary-cap format and accumulate points based on the game-day statistics they generate. Contests are over in one day -- or in the case of the NFL, one weekend -- with the potential of a significant return on investment. Daily fantasy participants are largely unaffected by injuries or cold streaks that can derail season-long fantasy teams.

“This is fun, no doubt,” said Wells, who last year was released by the Yankees before the final season of his seven-year, $126 million contract. “You get to kind of play general manager with a bunch of All-Stars. You see how easy it is to throw in a lineup and see what happens.”

Entry fees for daily fantasy sports more than quadrupled to $1 billion in 2014 from $245 million in 2013, according to Eilers Research in Anaheim, California. That growth has led to participants winning as much as $2 million in a single day.

Shared Passion

“Our players run the gamut from established financial professionals and attorneys to young folks right out of school - - and obviously superior athletes like Vernon Wells as well,” said DraftKings Vice President Femi Wasserman. “The one thing that all the players have in common is that they love sports.”

DraftKings, the No. 2 daily fantasy website after FanDuel Inc., is covering airfare and hotel costs for the 40 qualifiers for the Fantasy Basketball World Championship at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas.

The tournament includes the eight NBA games that tip off between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. New York time on Sunday.

The day before, DraftKings is holding its National Hockey League championship, with 25 qualifiers competing for a $100,000 top prize. Like the NBA contest, those competitors qualified by winning satellite events, similar to the way participants gain entry in the World Series of Poker.

Guest Coach

Wells this month was back in uniform as a guest coach for the Jays, with whom he played 12 seasons. The three-time All-Star center fielder was invited to camp to work with and mentor the team’s young outfielders.

Wells is now poring over NBA statistics and trends in advance of Sunday’s games. Two months ago, his winning squad was carried by performances from Ty Lawson, Zach Randolph, Chris Paul and Victor Oladipo.

The competition in Las Vegas -- which has a total purse of $2 million -- will be stiffer, Wells said.

“I’m going to be playing against people who are highly educated on what guys have done over the full course of the season,” Wells said. “That being said, you make a couple of good choices on some of the cheaper guys and they go off, and your studs go off, and you’ve got a chance. It’s going to be fun. There’s not too many times you can walk into a situation and have a chance to win that kind of money.”

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