SITTING ACROSS FROM Dave and Rob Gomes in their mother’s Italian restaurant in Boston’s North End is a surreal experience. The brothers aren’t famous, but they are weirdly familiar, like strangers you see every day at a coffee shop. Sometimes they get recognized. “At bars, it’ll happen,” says Dave, a cheery 25-year-old with a thick Boston accent and gelled hair parted sharply to one side. He cuts into a wedge of tiramisu. “I’ll have people come up to me and be like: ‘You’re the guy.'”
In November 2014, the Gomes brothers, who share an apartment in South Boston, won $1 million playing daily fantasy football on DraftKings.com. The company used the footage from their victory party, which took place at this restaurant, in a series of advertisements. So far this year, they have appeared on television more than 32,000 times, often during the commercial breaks of football games. As the brothers became ubiquitous, they attained meme status — a few people dressed up as them on Halloween, according to Rob, 26 — and incurred the wrath of social media.
Dave pulls out his phone and reads a few tweets. “If I ever meet Dave Gomes, I’m gonna hit him over the head with that oversized check,” he says.
“Dave Gomes on DraftKings commercials has easily one of the top 5 most punchable faces ever.”
“I see more of Dave Gomes than I do my kids.”
“That Gomes guy on the DraftKings commercial looks like every frat douche ever.”
Dave, who is studying to become a physician’s assistant, shares a glance with Rob. “Accurate,” he says. “I was in a frat.”
If you watch football, or ESPN, which has an exclusive advertising deal with DraftKings, you’ve seen the commercial. (It starts with the brothers pacing near the bar at the restaurant, Antico Forno, surrounded by a few dozen family members and friends. Rob, who is wearing a backward cap and a throwback Tom Brady jersey, sweats and fidgets and makes a series of increasingly theatrical faces; at one point, he literally spins with anxiety. Dave mostly stares at the television. Then the voice-over hits: “This is what it looks like when real people” — dramatic pause — “win a million dollars playing fantasy football.”
Dave says DraftKings approached him on the Sunday before they won, once it became clear that he and his brother — the two had entered the contest together under Dave’s name — were front-runners for the million-dollar prize. “The day before, our mom was like, ‘Stop putting money into that site,'” Rob says. They had drafted lucrative sleepers in the Buccaneers’ defense, which squashed struggling quarterback Robert Griffin III, and a little-known Patriots running back named Jonas Gray. After Gray scored four touchdowns against the Colts that Sunday in Week 11, the brothers surged to first place. But they had to wait and see whether their closest challenger, who selected Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell, would overtake them on Monday night during a matchup between Pittsburgh and Tennessee.
DraftKings, which is also based in Boston (the brothers say they had never met anyone from the company before that Monday), sent a few staffers with cameras to the restaurant. “They told us it was gonna be for a documentary,” Dave says. When the Steelers went into victory formation, ensuring that Bell wouldn’t score any more points, the party erupted. DraftKings filmed their champagne-soaked celebration. (Not captured on camera: the group moving to the streets, then to a local strip club, which had subbed in its Saturday night lineup in anticipation of the big spenders, according to Dave. Unfortunately, the brothers were broke at the time and couldn’t spend their oversized check on the dancers.)
A few months passed. Dave saw the first commercial in March; by the summer, it was everywhere. So far this year, DraftKings has spent $154 million on commercials that have aired over 46,000 times, up more than 425 percent from 2014; in September, it outspent every advertiser on TV, including its larger rival, FanDuel, according to iSpot.tv. The company repurposed the footage from the Gomes brothers’ party for several spots, using it to promote everything from fantasy UFC to fantasy NASCAR.
“Everyone always asks if we got paid for it,” Dave says.
“We didn’t get a dime,” says Rob.
“Well, we got paid,” Dave replies.
“We won a million bucks,” Rob says. “I’m not complaining.”
Although the two men had been playing fantasy football for years, they were relatively new to the daily version of the game. Dave says he won $3,500 during his second week on DraftKings; a week later, he won the million-dollar prize. The company couldn’t have dreamed up better pitchmen — two brothers, both amateurs, both jockish, camera-friendly guys who didn’t look like they spent hours in front of a computer. “Just pick your sport, pick your players and pick up your cash,” the commercial said. “That’s it. It’s the simplest way to win life-changing piles of cash every week.” The takeaway was obvious: Anyone, even two average guys from Boston, even you, could win big.
But now, as DraftKings battles regulators who want to ban daily fantasy sports, it must undermine that message. On Nov. 10, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman ordered DraftKings and FanDuel to shutter their operations in his state, claiming, among other things, that their contests should be classified as gambling because they’re contingent on chance. He also wrote in the complaint that the websites’ advertisements are misleading, using the Gomes ad — complete with a screenshot of the brothers’ mugging faces — as an example of how the companies make winning seem too easy. On Nov. 25, DraftKings and FanDuel recently fired back in court, arguing that skilled players — i.e., not just anyone, and probably not you — dominate their sites.
“There isn’t any doubt that a small fraction of players win the vast majority of prizes and do so time after time,” said DraftKings lawyer David Boies. “This is inconsistent with a game of chance.” The company cited research showing that a few experts, some of whom use complex mathematical models to assemble unusual lineups, reap most of the site’s winnings. It also highlighted the efforts of a million-dollar prizewinner named Peter Jennings, an avid daily fantasy player who reportedly spends up to 90 hours a week doing research. (He also works as a fantasy analyst for ESPN.) “He believes his success is the result of the immense amounts of research and preparation and the sophisticated analysis he has developed over years of playing,” the company wrote.
Admittedly, the phrase “immense research and preparation and sophisticated analysis” is a lot less catchy than “Pick your players and pick up your cash.”
Dave and Rob Gomes don’t use algorithms. They aren’t former poker players, and they don’t have quantitative expertise. But they do spend over 20 hours a week studying lineup strategies, according to Dave, and sometimes win a few thousand dollars. “We’re still learning,” Rob says. “We were rookies last year.”
After DraftKings wired them their winnings last fall — about $600,000 after taxes, Dave says — they invested in a condo in South Boston and flew to Arizona for the Super Bowl, winning an additional $90,000 off a bet they had placed on the Patriots in Las Vegas back in August. After the Super Bowl, they drove to Vegas to pick up their money in person, spending a night walking up and down the Strip with a knapsack full of cash. They stayed in Floyd Mayweather’s suite, Dave says. “It was bigger than my house.”
The brothers have enjoyed the spoils of microcelebrity. This past summer, they met their beloved Rob Gronkowski at an awards event. Dave says random women on Facebook message him at least once a week — “I have girls hitting me up from crazy states” — and at least one of his solicitors has flown to Boston to meet him. This fall he and Rob started taping a radio show called The Fantasy Bros, in which they counsel listeners on setting lineups. The name has a double meaning, explains Dave: “We’re bros, and we’re bros.”
The two men say they haven’t seen their commercial in weeks. According to a report in The Boston Globe, DraftKings CEO Jason Robins said at a recent conference that DraftKings was changing its advertisements to focus more on the gaming experience and less on “the prizing aspect.” Now that the company is arguing that skill plays an integral role in daily fantasy, it’s no longer touting how easy it is to win.
The Gomes brothers say that while they enjoyed their brief notoriety, they’re happy to recede from the spotlight. “I had so many people texting me: ‘I’m sick of your face,'” Dave says.
Rob laughs. “I’m sick of seeing me on TV at this point,” he says.