In late July 2020, Stripe flagged Drafty as a "high-risk merchant" in the "gambling" industry and put a freeze on our account. After a short email dialogue (with a human, woohoo!) they re-activated us in time for the fantasy football season. Here's how that conversation went. Hopefully other small businesses find this helpful, and maybe our users too who mistakenly believe that Drafty is a fantasy league provider (which we are not).
Thanks for using Stripe.
While we hate to give you anything less than a great experience, it does seem that your business is in violation of the Stripe Services Agreement, section A.7.b ("Restricted Businesses and Activities"). Specifically, we are unable to accept payments for gambling, including fantasy sports and games of chance as mentioned here: https://stripe.com/restricted-businesses.
We're very sorry that we have to turn away your business, and wish you the best of luck moving forward. If you think you are receiving this message in error, please let us know and we will be happy to re-review your account.
It's a very polite message, and the invitation at the end to appeal this decision appealed to me (har har), so I wrote back.
If I reply to this, does a human see it?
Drafty is not engaged in what you're defining as fantasy sports. There is no competing, winning, gambling, or game of chance of any kind.
We offer automated auction rooms that deal with fake money; there is no cost to participants. The auction host pays when they open a room and we do not host leagues or sweepstakes of any kind.
From your docs, I'll go line by line:
- Lotteries - NONE
- Bidding fee auctions - NONE (host pays to open a room, there are no fees for participants or bidding)
- Sports forecasting - NONE
- Fantasy sports leagues - NONE
- Internet gaming - NONE
- Contests - NONE (none w/ prizes)
- Sweepstakes - NONE
- Games of chance - NONE
- Charity sweepstakes/fundraising - NONE
They were really fast to reply, the next day asking for clarification on Drafty's business model. I guess there was a human behind the process after all. (yay!)
Thank you for getting back to us with some details of your business. I understand that we can’t support your business at the moment, but let me assist you if we can find another way to re-enable your account.
It looks like we could use some clarification on your business model in order to do a secondary review of your business and account. Could you please provide me with a layman's summary of how your business operates? Assume you're explaining your business to someone with no experience in your field, so we can make sure we have a clear understanding. We look forward to hearing back from you.
Clarification on the business model? Challenge accepted.
Hi [Stripe representative], I'm happy to oblige your Layman's summary. However, a true Layman requires an overview of fantasy sports so let me start there.
Fantasy Sports Leagues
In fantasy sports leagues, a typical season starts with what's called a draft. The draft is how each participant selects players to be on their fantasy team, and then throughout the real-life sport season (which may be the NFL, MLB, NBA, etc.), each fantasy team accumulates points based on how their players perform in real-life.
So a fantasy league lasts 16-30 weeks, depending on the sport being played. It culminates in a playoff tournament, typically, and a champion is crowned at the end. The draft takes place a few weeks before the start of the sport season and lasts 2-3 hours. "Draft day" is considered by many to be the highlight of the fantasy season.
Drafts typically follow one of two formats:
- A snake draft (the most common) involves participants taking turns selecting a player to add to their team. Each participant is put on a timer (e.g. 60 seconds) to make their choice, and selections continue until each participant has filled their team.
- An auction draft involves each participant being given a budget of imaginary money, and they bid on players one-by-one until a single bidder remains. When the timer runs out, the player is added to the high bidder's team. Auctions continue until each participant has filled their team.
While fantasy sports league providers (e.g. ESPN, CBS Sports, Yahoo, Sleeper, etc.) provide free draft rooms for their hosted leagues, many leagues are comprised of a group of real-life friends who prefer to conduct their own in-person draft.
Drafty Sports uses automated technology to provide live-online draft rooms for existing fantasy leagues to conduct their start-of-season draft. It is an alternative to the league provider's free draft room or using a friend as a human facilitator. It eliminates all the manual tasks that are required for an in-person draft by automating the timers, bidding (for auctions), and team assignments that occur as the draft proceeds. Drafty currently specializes in auction drafts but I'm currently building a snake draft format to add very soon.
Any type of draft can be configured on Drafty. Fantasy sports are the most popular, to be sure, and so that's how I market the website for SEO, but pokemon is popular too and recently I saw a Marvel Superheroes draft come through.
With the pandemic, many would-be in-person drafters are unable to congregate together like normal and Drafty provides for them an online draft experience most similar to how they'd usually do it in-person.
Fees - Whoever is in charge of organizing the draft pays a one-time fee to open a draft room, and they can configure the draft settings according to their needs. Participants join for free once the draft room is opened.
Since many leagues are comprised of real-life friends who play together every year (some have been together for 20+ years), and most most of the fantasy league providers do not offer a permanent league history, another feature coming soon to Drafty is an offseason clubhouse whereby a fantasy sports league can save historical information about their league such as record keeping, favorite memories, photos, etc. These clubhouses will follow the same billing format - the organizer will be charged to set it up each year, and then other participants can access them for free.
I have no intention of getting into the business of hosting fantasy leagues and competing directly with the likes of the aforementioned providers.
About a week later, they re-activated Drafty's account - in time before fantasy football season really ramped up, thank goodness.
I am a big fan of Stripe, I've enjoyed using their services. Maybe by documenting this dialogue publicly on the Drafty blog, other small businesses who have gotten a similar notice will gain some confidence. Maybe Drafty users will gain some useful insight about the company, and perhaps I'll have a faster turnaround in the event that Stripe flags the account again in the future.