Disney Content Licensing Push Might Not Signal ESPN Sports Betting Deal

Written By Derek Helling on February 6, 2023
movies disney espn sportsbook bob iger

The House of Mouse might as well be made of glass. Every move that Disney makes, or is reportedly about to make, will receive scrutiny in terms of potential implications for many aspects of the entertainment industry, like a hypothetical ESPN sportsbook.

There’s a new report that Disney is veering away from a strategy of pushing its streaming service with exclusive content and looking to maximize its revenue with new licensing deals. There could be no tea leaves to read here, though.

ESPN sportsbook could be inevitable

Thomas Buckley and Lucas Shaw reported for Bloomberg on Feb. 3 that Disney is straying from its Disney+ or Bust agenda. Buckley and Shaw say that “according to people familiar with the discussions,” Disney wants to “earn more cash from its content library.”

While there’s no official confirmation from Disney, there are some corroborating signs. Disney elevated the subscription price for its streaming services late last year. In November 2022, Disney reported that despite adding millions of new subscribers, the product actually lost $1.5 billion.

So far, Disney seems to be employing simple strategies to improve the profitability of its streaming products. In addition to charging more, increasing the customer base makes sense. From that perspective, licensing ESPN seems to fit in.

Giving a sports betting company the right to use ESPN content and trademarks would fit this strategy. It would be a way to get new revenue for content that the company is making anyway. Disney’s financial situation could provide sufficient motivation for the company to finally pull the trigger on such a deal.

On the other hand, there are reasons to believe such a deal is not imminent.

Licensing movies and ESPN aren’t the same thing

For one thing, ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro said in December that no licensing deal is on the horizon for the company. Further revelations about why people interested in the gambling industry should take Pitaro at his word came in the same conversation.

Pitaro added that Disney CEO Bob Iger and he value a more seamless sports betting experience for ESPN content consumers. As ESPN’s primary product is video content, that signals now might not be the time for such an expansion.

Simply put, online sportsbooks aren’t there yet. The lag in data processing and live streaming in sportsbook apps is still too great. That was going to be what differentiated Fubo Sportsbook. However, seamlessly integrating sports betting into content is not yet seamless.

For that reason, ESPN could wait until the technology catches up with its expectations. Letting Netflix or Paramount+ buy the rights to stream more Disney movies is a far simpler premise. On their own, such licensing deals are no indication that an ESPN sportsbook is any nearer to becoming reality.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is the assistant managing editor of PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including legislation and litigation in the gaming industry. He enjoys reading hundreds of pages of a gambling bill or lawsuit for his audience. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa.

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