F1’s US Growth Spurs Racing Fantasy League Into Gaming Startup

·3 min read

Benefiting from Formula One’s ascent in the U.S., GridRival recently raised a $3 million seed round to build a gaming destination exclusively for motorsports fans. GridRival hopes to attract fans of NASCAR, IndyCar and MotoGP, but its focus on F1 has given the startup a new angle into the American market.

F1 returns to Austin, Texas, this weekend riding a national popularity wave. The sport’s U.S. fanbase has increased by roughly 40% since 2018 to nearly 50 million, with higher growth rates among viewers in the key 18-34 demo, and ESPN’s F1 telecasts are up 40% over 2019 equivalents in many cases.

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GridRival co-founder Ross Fruin doesn’t believe that those fans—new and old—are being fully served by the existing fantasy and gaming products on the market.

“Most motorsports fans, if you start to dissect their interests … are usually not traditional sports fans,” Fruin said in an interview. “No one was really focusing on this audience in any sort of way that I thought would be required to really actually engage them.”

GridRival currently offers unofficial F1 and MotoGP fantasy leagues, with plans to add daily fantasy and real-money products as well as support for other racing series.

Motorsports games require working around different limitations. For one, data can be more limited than it is for traditional team sports. But GridRival’s investors think the company’s potential market is worth the additional hurdles. KB Partners led the round, joined by Sharp Alpha Advisors, ESPT Ventures and Benjie Cherniak.

“Sports betting operators are currently amidst a customer acquisition gold rush in which the focus is increasingly being directed toward finding large, untapped audiences,” Sharp Alpha managing partner Lloyd Danzig said in a statement. “GridRival has proven itself capable of targeting and engaging the motorsports fan base.”

In an interview, DraftKings sportsbook director Johnny Avello said, “There’s some promise in F1.” For now though, NASCAR attracts more interest on the company’s platform. “We see it going through a growth spurt,” Avello said of NASCAR, largely because of fan-heavy states like Virginia and Tennessee that have recently legalized betting.

Fruin said GridRival started less as a business than a hobby, as an attempt to build for himself and his friends the type of racing-focused product he couldn’t find elsewhere. After PASPA was struck down, Fruin went full-time on the project in 2019.

“It was really difficult for us to raise money two, three years ago when there wasn’t as much attention on motorsports,” Fruin said. “The thing that I really think made the difference in the last 24 months in our trajectory, and especially with the ability to fundraise, is what’s happened in motorsports.”

The platform has now drawn over 100,000 users. Longterm, Fruin says he has his eyes on the global motorsports market. MotoGP, for instance, claims 300 million households of fans around the world, and many of those are in locales with simpler betting licensing regimes than here, where individual states establish their own rules.

But the company will spend the next year-plus with a focus on the U.S. (alongside Canada and the U.K.), hoping to grow as fast as F1 has in America.

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