ESPN is upgrading the user experience for its Fantasy Football players by making it easier and more seamless to pay league dues and transfer funds between players. Previously, players were using what amounts to a duck tape and chewing gum patchwork of cash, checks, and PayPal, but none of which directly integrated into the ESPN digital product.
To rectify this mess, ESPN has partnered with Tilt (formerly Crowdtilt), a San Francisco-based group payments and crowdfunding platform. The partnership represents Tilt’s first foray into enterprise technology sales, and one of ESPN’s first moves into real-money commerce.
“We wanted to build something that integrated the experience of creating a fantasy league in a simple, fun way – we hope that our tool will allow Commissioners to focus on playing the game rather than running it,” says Tilt CEO James Beshara.
Through this integration, the process of signing up for a league becomes as simple as logging in through Facebook, determining league dues, and then setting the number of teams that need to have paid dues to kick things off, the company explains. It’s a far cry from the old system which often resulted in one or more players failing to pay before a season began (or, worse, before it ended) and with league commissioners running around collecting debts, rather than enjoying the competition.
Compared to other payments companies, like Braintree/Venmo or Stripe, and crowdfunders like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, Tilt has taken taken what might best be described as an all things, to all people model. The Crowdtilt mobile app allows groups to pool funds for shared experiences like restaurant bills, taxi rides, and gifts. Tilt.com invites creators to crowdfund projects of all times. Similarly, the open source Tilt Open Web app is aimed at politicians and startups, among others, who wish to host crowdfunding campaigns on their own websites. And finally, the Tilt Platform API is targeting large corporations like Disney-owned ESPN, promising enterprise-grade security and anti-fraud capabilities.
Going this broad is rarely a successful strategy for young, resource strapped startups, but Tilt has managed to offer multiple compelling products within a relatively cohesive narrative. This ESPN partnership is an extension of that success and will help the company get in front of exponentially more consumers. And every time one of these users makes a payment via Tilt, the company will collect a fee in the range of $1 – it’s a total that could add up quickly, given the popularity of fantasy sports.
“It’s unusual for a company like ESPN to integrate the technology of a two-year-old [startup]. But increasingly, Tilt is powering social payments for brands,” Andreessen Horowitz partner Jeff Jordan* tells the WSJ.
Tilt has raised $37.1 million in venture capital from investors that include Andreessen Horowitz*, QueensBridge Venture Partners, High Line Venture Partners, Crunchfund*, SV Angel, Felicis Ventures, DCM, Silicon Valley Bank, and others. The two-and-a-half-year-old company is based in San Francisco and has more than 85 employees.
It’s notable, given the hypercomeptitive race to own the future of the payments world that none of the perceived market leaders, PayPal, Braintree, or Stripe, got the contract to power ESPN’s fantasy leagues. Tilt may not own the highest profile logos in Silicon Valley, and it may not be the first brand consumers think of when it comes to crowdfunding, but with friends like Disney, that quickly becomes less of a problem
Overdependence on one customer is never a good thing, so the next question is how many more wales can the company bag? It won’t take many for this company to be considered a home run success.
*Disclosure: Andreessen Horowitz partners Marc Andreessen, Jeff Jordan, and Chris Dixon are investors in Pando, as is Crunchfunc.