Expansion plans

Disney and ESPN considering a more aggressive strategy to enter sports betting

ESPN could partner with a sports betting operator.
Reading time 2:01 min
Disney CEO Bob Chapek told investors the company is considering forging a closer licensing partnership with wagering operators through ESPN. Sports betting would give the company the ability to appeal to a younger audience with an affinity for sports, reason why entering the market is among ESPN's plans. Last month, media speculation pointed towards alleged talks between the broadcasting giant and potential partners for a $3 billion betting brand deal with a major sportsbook.

Disney is considering plans to get “aggressive” about expanding its presence to the sports wagering market, chief executive Bob Chapek told investors at a conference on Tuesday. The company is considering forging a closer licensing partnership with wagering operators through broadcasting powerhouse ESPN, reports Bloomberg.

Asked on whether ESPN would move beyond licensing its name to gambling companies to fully embed wagering inside ESPN itself, Chapek responded that “there’s a long way between embedded into the ESPN business model and licensing out.”

“Let’s just say that our fans are really interested in sports betting. Let’s say that our partners –with the leagues– are interested in sports betting,” he clarified. “So we’re interested in sports betting.”

ESPN already has agreements with sports betting companies, having entered co-exclusive agreements with operators Caesars Entertainment and DraftKings, allowing the media giant to routinely feature points spreads and other betting lines during games.

Further pursuing the gambling market offers exciting revenue prospects for Disney and ESPN, as more states in the US embrace legal sports wagering. However, there is potential room for friction when taking into account Disney’s family-oriented public image, although that might not be as big of an impediment as expected.

“Strategically, sports betting gives us the ability to appeal to a much younger sports fan who has a very strong affinity for those sports,” also said Chapek in the previously cited meeting. “So it’s definitely a place we want to be.”

Last month, The Wall Street Journal reported alleged talks between ESPN and potential candidates for a $3 billion betting brand deal with a major sportsbook. This agreement would give the chosen partner the option to use the ESPN name for branding purposes and potentially rename its sportsbook after the sports TV network.

Chapek has not given specifics on partners, nor details about potential deals, although he said that ESPN was “starting to take some pretty big steps along that way.” In August, media speculation reported the entertainment giant had already held talks with Caesars and Draftkings.

The company counts with a valuable brand and extensive customer database, which could be of potential interest in a partnership. Disney’s current shift to a more positive vision of gambling marks a contrast with the position the company held years ago.

In 2019, former chief executive Bob Iger said he didn’t see Disney getting involved in the gambling business “by facilitating gambling in any way.” ESPN does, however, include betting-related content into certain shows, podcasts and telecasts, such as “Daily Wager.”

While ESPN hasn’t entered the gambling industry yet, rival Fox Sports has already done so, via sportsbook Fox Bet.

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