Analyst: ESPN Bet launch “exceptional”

November 29, 2023 12:58 PM
Photo: ESPN BET (courtesy)
  • David McKee, CDC Gaming Reports
November 29, 2023 12:58 PM
  • David McKee, CDC Gaming Reports

In the course of a lengthy “interactive monitor,” Truist Securities analyst Barry Jonas dwelt on the November launch of ESPN Bet. While online sports betting in general was “very strong,” according to Jonas, “app downloads have been exceptional” for the newcomer.

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The analyst, however, stuck by his preference for DraftKings. “We do see a gap between ESPN Bet’s product and the market leaders for now.” ESPN Bet is a partnership between the sports network and Penn Entertainment, which ended its relationship with Barstool Sportsbook in favor of the TV behemoth.

With November not yet finished, it’s too soon to have any indication of the amount of betting handle on ESPN Bet. Nor did Jonas have any metrics on the volume of promotional activity by ESPN Bet or its rivals. However, the new betting app exceeded 1.5 million downloads between Nov. 14 and 26. To date, FanDuel’s application has been downloaded 5.7 million times, DraftKings’s 4.5 million.

The ESPN number is triple that of the amount of downloads of FanDuel and DraftKings during the November fortnight. Observed Jonas, “We note ESPN Bet has already achieved 27%/35% of FanDuel/DKNG’s cumulative downloads in the U.S. Interestingly, we’ve seen some relative pickup in app downloads for DraftKings and FanDuel over the past few weeks as ESPN Bet downloads ramp.”

He continued, “We think the power of the ESPN brand speaks to success so far, given 1.6%+ of the adult population (in states where [it is] live) have downloaded ESPN Bet.” Initial wagering data on ESPN Bet will become available next month, while its first full month of performance (December) will become apparent in January.

Predicated on both research and hands-on use, Jonas deemed the ESPN Bet app “strong, though not best-in-class just yet.” He noted that it was built atop what was essentially a rebranded Barstool application. As for its basic features — account creation, login, layout, and ease of navigation — Jonas deemed them “positives, though we think some of the finer points can be improved.”

Room for improvement was found in several aspects of parlay wagering, ranging from elementary ones to pushed legs, in which Jonas’s entire parlay was voided. He also described the account-withdrawal procedure as “lengthy … some initial users reporting multi-day wait times. That said,” he resumed, “a lot of early user feedback online appears very positive.”

Quantifying this, Jonas noted that online ratings of ESPN Bet were 4.9 out of five in 71,000 user reviews, compared to 4.8 for both FanDuel and DraftKings. “Now, the question is if download success translates,” he noted.

As for promotions, ESPN Bet is launching with a $250 package in the form of four to five $50 free bets. It will also match player deposits up to $1,000. “However, early indications suggest DraftKings has not seen a material impact to retention and handle per customer,” Jonas noted. “Our expectation remains that some players will trial ESPN Bet and return to their ‘primary’ offerings after promotions have been exhausted.”

In conclusion, Jonas wrote, ESPN Bet’s ultimate success will rely on an improved product and growth in the sports-betting marketplace. (Initially, the partnership has been targeting female bettors in its TV advertising.) Enhancements, he observed, are still in the pipeline.

With regard to his hands-on field research, Jonas allowed that it’s “tough work, but someone has to do it.”