On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that ESPN is exploring a potential $3 billion deal to lean even further into legal sports betting than it has already by seeking to license its brand to major sports betting companies. The Journal reports that the Worldwide Leader in Sports has engaged in talks with both Caesars and DraftKings to license its name for branding on sportsbook apps.
ESPN is already partnered with both companies — Caesars provides betting data and odds across ESPN platforms and DraftKings is the network’s daily fantasy partner, plus its sportsbook is integrated across various ESPN digital platforms. But the deal in question would further expand those relationships, potentially making ESPN synonymous not only with sports but with sports wagering, which has proliferated across the country since the Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in May 2018. More than 30 U.S. states and jurisdictions now offer some form of legal sports sports betting. The deal could include some sort of “exclusive marketing agreement,” which would require the partner to spend a predetermined amount on advertising on ESPN’s platforms.
Overall, this is a significant turnabout for ESPN, which is owned by The Walt Disney Company — a conservative, family friendly, entertainment giant that has fought against any gambling expansion in Florida.
The deal would allow ESPN and Disney to take advantage of the more than $150 billion that is wagered annually on sports in the U.S., and would take the intersection of sports and sports betting to a new level.
Some media companies have already jumped or dipped into the sports betting pool — Fox Sports has its FOX Bet sports betting app, CBS has a deal with Caesars Sportsbook (formerly William Hill) to use its odds and other gambling data, PointsBet has a similar deal with NBC Sports and NBC Universal, and Bally’s partnered with Sinclair Broadcasting to rebrand its regional sports networks with the Bally’s name. That company has been on a buying spree and recently launched the first of its new Bally Bet apps in Colorado.
— Lou Whiteman (@louwhiteman) August 27, 2021
Sports wagering has become a popular pathway for companies and states to begin to recoup pandemic-related revenue losses. In 2021, at least six U.S. jurisdictions have legalized sports betting, while Michigan and Virginia launched mobile operators for the first time in January. Arizona is on the cusp of becoming the biggest state in the West to offer statewide mobile wagering, though a lawsuit filed by a local tribe Thursday claims the new law violates the Voter Protection Act by allowing wagering on non-tribal lands.
ESPN’s parent company, Disney, has been vocal in its quest to limit an expansion of gaming in Florida, where the Seminole Tribe and the state agreed to a new compact that gives the Seminoles a monopoly. The new compact requires all bets in the state to flow through the tribe. However, multiple lawsuits have already been filed, including one that seeks to prevent the tribe from going live next month.
And, of course, this Disney development does not come without controversy or criticism. Surely, there are more of both to come.
So this could end up being an ethics case study for the ages. https://t.co/WIoB96mQU5
— Jeremy Littau (@JeremyLittau) August 27, 2021
Companies that do sports journalism and analysis that move betting lines should probably not have sports gambling partners. https://t.co/DrSxEkX9Dh
— Two-piece Advocate (@frazierapproves) August 27, 2021
there’s almost no discussion of this now but it seems pretty likely to me that in 2–5 years we’re going to be talking about sports betting as a major social/public health problem. no country that’s tried this has our level of excess, media addiction and total lack of safety net https://t.co/pji0TTnxRT
— Chase Woodruff (@dcwoodruff) August 27, 2021
Hear me out, ESPN, a restaurant that revolves around sports celebrities and their memorabilia, like a Hard Rock Cafe or Planet Hollywood, perhaps so people will feel like they’re in a sort of sports “zone.” https://t.co/G3LgrZewlt
— Norm Charlatan (@normcharlatan) August 27, 2021