SAN FRANCISCO — Yahoo has long been a top online destination for sports fans, and this year, it made two big bets to expand that audience: its multimillion-dollar deal to webcast a National Football League game and its July entrance into the world of daily fantasy sports contests.
While the N.F.L. stream a month ago was successful enough that both Yahoo and the N.F.L. are exploring further streaming partnerships, daily fantasy games have been more troublesome.
Eric T. Schneiderman, the New York attorney general, just expanded his investigation of daily fantasy sports games to include Yahoo, the No. 3 player in the young market. Until then, most of the scrutiny had fallen on the two market leaders, DraftKings and FanDuel.
Critics charge that the contests amount to illegal sports gambling because the outcomes are based more on luck than on skill.
The attorney general’s investigation puts an uncomfortable spotlight on Yahoo’s sports offerings, which have been one of the few bright spots for the troubled Silicon Valley icon. Yahoo, an early leader on the Internet, has in recent years fallen further and further behind Google and Facebook in the fight for online advertising and traffic.
And Marissa Mayer, the company’s chief executive since 2012, has been under increasing pressure from Wall Street to come up with a more effective strategy to turn around the company.
When Yahoo began offering the paid daily fantasy games in July, the Internet company wanted to capture a piece of a hot market. It was also hoping that the traffic and good will it would gain from fantasy sports fans would help further its broader ambitions in sports.
Although the company declined to comment for this article, Kathy Savitt, then the company’s chief marketing officer, said at the time, “We’re focused on what do sports fans want and how do we delight them.”
But any restrictions on daily fantasy games are unlikely to damage Yahoo as much as its competitors in the business, which depend on entry fees for most of their revenue. Yahoo has deep financial pockets, lined with billions of dollars from its advertising businesses and the partial sale of its stake in Alibaba, a Chinese e-commerce company.
“Yahoo does not depend on gambling revenue for its fantasy business,” Jerry Shen, the former director of engineering for Yahoo fantasy sports, said in an interview conducted via instant messaging. “It’s nice to have, but Yahoo has had an ad-supported fantasy business for 15 years.”
And Yahoo’s sports ambitions are far greater than daily fantasy games. Yahoo’s sports sites, which are measured in conjunction with NBC’s online sports properties, were the No. 2 sports destination across the web and mobile devices, trailing only ESPN, according to comScore, a measurement firm.
In fantasy sports contests, players pay an entry fee, then compete with other players to assemble the best possible fictional team of professional athletes. The performance of each “fantasy” team is based on the actual performance of the individual athletes in real games, and the winner usually gets a substantial cash prize.
Originally, such contests lasted an entire season, and Yahoo quickly became the top place to play those games. But in recent years, Yahoo’s competitors added games based on a single day’s matches, like N.F.L. games on Sundays, making the contests more akin to sports betting, which is illegal in most states, than to the games of skill allowed under federal law.
Mr. Shen, who helped persuade Yahoo’s top executives to add daily games but left the company a month after they began, said that for Yahoo, getting into the daily fantasy business was a way to introduce new users to the company’s broader fantasy sports offerings.
Those, in turn, help attract an audience for Yahoo’s sports news and other advertising-supported content.
Unique visitors to the Yahoo-NBC Sports combination have risen by 20 percent to 81 million in the last year, according to comScore, although some of that increase was driven by FanDuel visitors who were included in the count. Visitors to Yahoo News, on the other hand, have dropped 12 percent despite expensive investments in digital magazines and a global news anchor, Katie Couric.
Yahoo considered last month’s live video stream of an N.F.L. game between the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars to be a success, and this week, The Los Angeles Times reported that the N.F.L. commissioner, Roger Goodell, was meeting with Yahoo and other companies about the possible streaming of “Thursday Night Football” games.
David Copeland, the chief executive of SuperLobby.com, a site that tracks data about daily fantasy sports, said that Yahoo appeared to be losing money on most of its guaranteed daily fantasy games, in which it promises to pay a fixed pot of prizes no matter how few people enter the contest.
But short-term profits might not matter. “They have a stronger balance sheet than everyone else in the game,” Mr. Copeland said. “If it takes six months or 10 years, they’re not in a hurry.”
If cash-based daily fantasy games are eventually stopped in the United States, he said, Yahoo could just switch to competitions in which players win points, like casino-style games on Facebook and other platforms. The company would make money from ads and from selling bundles of points.
“Daily fantasy is really a product that people would play for free,” he said. “It’s a fun, engaging way to watch a series of games.”