Last week’s massive news in the legal sports betting industry — that PENN Entertainment will be partnering with ESPN to launch ESPN BET this fall — was in fact massive enough to serve as “A block” news far beyond the borders of the gambling industry.
Every TV talking head, columnist, and podcaster had a take, it seemed, on the marriage between those four uppercase letters that have long been synonymous with sports content and those other four uppercase letters that most of the mainstream media knew nothing about prior to last Tuesday’s news release.
James Andrew Miller, the man who literally wrote the book on ESPN, appeared on The Press Box podcast with Bryan Curtis Monday and said he didn’t think it was “that great a deal” for ESPN. He was surprised it partnered with PENN rather than DraftKings or FanDuel, whose “pedigrees are a little bit stronger” than that of the casino company that had a prior deal with Barstool Sportsbook.
“Two billion dollars is a nice number to throw out there, but it’s spread out over 10 years, and they’re going to have to do some dividing of that,” Miller said. “I don’t want to say it sounds like a fire sale going on, but this doesn’t reek of an element that’s part of a grander strategic plan. This seems like a one-off, almost done in haste, and with a partner that you would never have expected them to be in business with.”
Miller made a point to say he was stopping short of using the word “desperation.” But he framed the news as a risky leap for Disney and ESPN, which previously only tip-toed around the sports gambling space by beginning in recent years to discuss odds on the air.
“Instead of going 20 or 30 miles an hour, now they’re going 60. Now they’re all-in. And so, the hope, I think, is that this is going to somehow be another revenue stream that’s going to make up for some of the revenue streams that they’ve lost,” Miller said. “[ESPN employees] are shocked, particularly people that have been there for 10 years or longer. They never thought this day would come.”
Additional week-after viewpoints
The hosts of the weekly Slate.com podcast Hang Up and Listen expressed similar surprise and uncertainty, with Vann Newkirk, a guest co-host and a senior editor at The Atlantic, worrying openly about conflict of interest. He stated flat-out of the partnership, “I think it’s going to be a disaster.”
Added longtime Hang Up and Listen host Josh Levin, “There’s something that feels shabby about this. There is the association that PENN had with Barstool, and what’s literally going to happen, it’s called reskinning — it’s basically like getting a new case for your phone. They’re just, like, changing the Barstool label to ESPN.
“What ESPN and Disney really should have done is get an enormous deal from the likes of FanDuel, DraftKings, one of the places that have the biggest market share — get that five years ago. Get a multi-billion dollar deal to get in on the ground floor here. And it seems like, even though they’re the biggest player in sports in America, it seems like they’ve kind of been left with crumbs.”
Barrett Sports Media’s Demetri Ravanos offered a much more positive take as he focused his column Monday on arguing against natural comparisons between ESPN BET and FOX Bet, the sportsbook that has been canceled by Flutter.
“These are two wildly different situations,” Ravanos wrote. “ESPN has a leg up on FOX right now and will get an even bigger one once its OTT streaming product launches. FOX Bet failed, but not because there is no market for a network-branded sportsbook. It was just the wrong network.”
Ravanos opined that ESPN will benefit from entering the sports gambling arena several years after FOX tried to do so. “A road map of where not to go and what to do better is pretty valuable when entering a new space,” he wrote.
The Motley Fool, an outlet that offers investment guidance, focused on the financial side of things. Its Monday analysis of both companies involved was decidedly hesitant.
“On the surface, it may look like Penn is the big winner here,” wrote Adam Spatacco. “But remember, the company paid a hefty sum for Barstool Sports and spent nearly three years integrating the media company with its own operations, only to part ways with it soon thereafter. While Penn’s ambitions with ESPN are understandable, I would be hesitant to buy the stock until it is a known quantity that this partnership is paying off.
“Personally, I am intrigued by Penn’s partnership with ESPN. However, I would like to see some initial results and data from both Penn and Disney before investing in either. The benefits for each company look obvious, but there are some risks. Just because ESPN/Disney can continue taking advertisements with other sportsbooks doesn’t mean it will happen. There could be a scenario in which current advertisers on ESPN seek other distribution due to the Penn deal.
“Furthermore, given that Penn did not make meaningful inroads with the Barstool-branded sportsbook, I’d like to see how the market reacts once ESPN Bet is formally launched before diving into the stock.”
Fitz and starts for DraftKings
After a profitable second quarter, thanks in part to reduced advertising spend, DraftKings is ramping promotion back up for football season and will drop a new commercial next Monday. The spot pairs a familiar face in DK ads — actor/comedian Kevin Hart — with a new one, ex-quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, described in his on-screen graphic as a “retired NFL smart guy.” (Fitzpatrick played his college ball at Harvard.)
The commercial introduces DraftKings’ new tagline, “The crown is yours.”
Gruden, betJACK launch ‘Taking the Points’
As Ohio braces for its first full NFL season with legal sports betting, one of the state’s operators, betJACK, announced a new streaming show featuring an instantly recognizable football surname: Gruden.
Originally from Tiffin, Ohio, Jay Gruden coached in his home state when he was offensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals from 2011-13, though he’s best known for his head coaching tenure with Washington’s professional football team from 2014-19. Now he’s hosting Taking the Points, a streaming show focused on NFL betting in partnership with betJACK.
“We are thrilled to launch Taking the Points in partnership with betJACK,” Gruden said in a press release. “Having experienced the true passion and dedication of Ohio fans during my time with the Bengals, it is evident that as a sports platform made in the Buckeye State, betJACK shares the same heart for the game and its fans. … Together, we are creating an engaging platform where fans can get a unique perspective on the game and make smarter betting choices.”
The show streams twice each week on YouTube, TikTok, and other social media outlets.