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FanDuel: Cookstown man Nigel Eccles' transformation from maths student to star of corporate America makes big screen

By Claire McNeilly

Published 06/09/2016

Nigel Eccles, co-founder and chief executive of the online fantasy sports company, FanDuel.
Picture Robert Perry 24th Sept 2015
Nigel Eccles, co-founder and chief executive of the online fantasy sports company, FanDuel. Picture Robert Perry 24th Sept 2015

It's a story that demands a wider audience ... the young Cookstown father-of-two who gambled everything he had on pursuing his business dream and is now one of the star CEOs of corporate America.

And Hollywood clearly agrees, because Nigel Eccles’ transformation from maths student to online fantasy sports tycoon is to feature in a new big budget movie.

TriStar Pictures has optioned the film rights to ‘The Big Game’ by Albert Chen, a new book which details how the modest 41-year-old Eccles built up a $1bn company after dreaming up a business idea that has now accrued over 60m customers and made him fabulously wealthy.

Eccles and his wife Lesley, undeterred by the failure of a previous business plan and despite having two young children depending on them, were so sure that their new project – FanDuel – would be a success that they quit their jobs, sank all their savings into the venture and worked without salaries for a year and a half.

The huge gamble paid off, but the real drama in Sports Illustrated journalist Chen’s soon-to-be-published story is the fierce – and ongoing – battle for billions between Eccles’ company and DraftKings, a rival outfit set up by Americans Mark Cuban and Robert Kraft and fronted by CEO Jason Robins.

Although stories about business don’t always work on the big screen, Tristar believes ‘The Big Game’ could well have the same cinematic appeal as last year’s hugely successful ‘The Big Short’, which was based on Michael Lewis’s 2010 book about traders and analysts who foresaw the impending housing bubble burst of 2008.

Acquiring the movie rights suggests that Tristar want a movie finished within two years of the book launch, which is scheduled for early next year.

Oscar-winner Jeremy Renner is already being tipped to play Eccles – whose first pay packet came from helping his brother cut and sell wood.

“I grew up on a farm in Co Tyrone and I probably was a frustrated entrepreneur for years,” Edinburgh-based Eccles told the Belfast Telegraph earlier this year.

“I was trying to figure out what my idea was going to be, but I also felt it was getting away from me.

“I had two children, a big mortgage but I felt if I didn’t do it then I never would.”

He added: “It was very challenging early on; not a lot went right. It was also very difficult to raise money. I don’t ever remember thinking about giving up, though. I always thought in the early years that we would make it through despite the setbacks.”

The rise of FanDuel and its rival is one of the biggest recent stories in US sport.

Eccles has attracted huge financial backing for his company, which uses incessant advertising to get its message across.

 While vying with DraftKings for the lion’s share of the market, Eccles has come across other formidable adversaries, with various state attorneys arguing that DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports) companies violate stringent gambling laws in the US.

 In April of this year, Eccles revealed exclusively to the Belfast Telegraph that he was setting up a UK version of FanDuel, based on the English Premier League.

 It’s the company’s first venture outside of north America; an entirely new product which allows customers to build teams of eleven fantasy football players under a salary-cap format and compete against each other over the course of a day or an entire weekend.

 Prior to last month’s launch, the company’s DFS contests have only been available for American football, basketball, baseball and ice hockey.

 DraftKings have already been operating their game in the UK for several months.

 American news website BostInno, which suggested Renner would be the ideal actor to play Eccles because the two men look rather similar - and because Renner, apparently, can master a really good Northern Ireland accent – also recommended Elijah Wood to play rival CEO Robins.

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