ESPN President Dispels Sports Betting Licensing Rumors

Written By J.R. Duren on December 5, 2022
An online gambling deal could still be on the table for ESPN and DraftKings

If you’ve been following Disney over the past few months, then you probably feel like you just stepped off Space Mountain.

Disney seemed close to an exclusive partnership deal between ESPN and DraftKings, alluded to building an ESPN sportsbook, backtracked on its sportsbook teaser, then replaced its CEO.

And now it seems that Disney’s ESPN is nowhere close to signing an online gambling deal, ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro said in a recent interview with Sports Business Journal’s Media Innovator’s conference.

ESPN president’s comments add another twist to online gambling saga

Pietro said that ESPN‘s audience like the company’s sports betting content. And because its audience is a higher net-worth viewership, it presents huge opportunities for sports betting brands.

Those opportunities come in the form of partnerships between ESPN and sportsbooks. In 2020, ESPN signed a partnership with Caesars and DraftKings. Through the partnership, the sports network promotes both companies.

ESPN wins in partnerships like that because sportsbooks pay them for the promos. The sportsbooks win because they get their names in front of ESPN‘s audience.

Last month, it seemed ESPN was prepared to do an exclusive partnership with DraftKings. Bloomberg reported that the deal was ready to roll.

However, it never transpired. And now, more than a month later, Pitaro says a big partnership isn’t happening. “I do not anticipate any deal is imminent,” he said.

ESPN sportsbook unlikely, but a DraftKings deal may still be on the table

Late last month, Disney announced Bob Chapek was out as CEO and former Disney boss Bob Iger would take the helm.

Chapek whipped up the Disney sports betting whirlwind when he mentioned in September that Disney was “working very hard” on developing an ESPN sportsbook.

While a sportsbook makes a lot of sense for ESPN, it doesn’t really fit the family-friendly Disney brand. So, Chapek’s words were a bit of a shock.

The former CEO then backed off his comments within a week. During an interview with MSNBC, he said ESPN was “never going to be a book; that’s never in the cards for the Walt Disney company.”

Instead, he said the company would hire a partner to run sports betting. That comment made more sense.

Either way, the sports betting universe is left wondering what Disney is going to do over the next few months. One possible option is to sign an exclusive sportsbook deal, the kind most thought would close in October.

Such a deal would be worth around $300 million a year, according to Eilers & Krejcik Gaming.

If DraftKings were the company to sign such a deal, it would be significant. DraftKings has yet to figure out the secret sauce for surging ahead of FanDuel.

A massive deal with ESPN would make that competition an interesting one.

New Disney CEO could impact ESPN sports betting relationships

With Bob Iger at the helm now, there’s a sense that Disney is going to return to a focus on improving its theme-park experience. Will it be as interested in online gambling with Iger at the controls?

Pitaro was very vague during his interview. He said he and Iger believe there is an upside for the ESPN brand and that the company wants to create a “more seamless” sports betting experience for ESPN‘s users.

What would that look like? It’s purely speculative, but a “seamless” experience would include links within ESPN content that send users to a partner sportsbook like, say, DraftKings.

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J.R. Duren

J.R. Duren has covered the gambling beats for more than a dozen states for Catena Media since 2015. His past reporting experience includes two years at the Villages Daily Sun, and he is a first-place winner at the Florida Press Club Excellence in Journalism Contest.

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