ESPN Bet on the edge of launch

November 10, 2023 3:46 PM
Photo: ESPN
  • Jake Pollard, CDC Gaming Reports
November 10, 2023 3:46 PM
  • Jake Pollard, CDC Gaming Reports

Thursday evening’s ESPN Edge conference was a preview of what to expect from the ESPN Bet sports-betting app that is set to launch on November 14.

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If Penn Entertainment CEO Jay Snowden’s opening comments sounded like he was pushing back against the naysayers who were so doubtful of the $1.5 billion Penn will invest in its sports-betting joint venture with ESPN, that’s because it was exactly what he was doing.

In fairness, it may also be because he’s fully aware of the challenge ahead when it comes to taking (and retaining) market share from the likes of DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM, and Fanatics.

Providing some background on how the partnership with ESPN came about, Snowden explained that when ESPN viewers wanted to place a bet, they had to “leave the ESPN ecosystem.”

The broadcaster had no intention of operating a sportsbook and was “looking for a partner that had the experience of operating sportsbooks,” because “it was very clear to (ESPN CEO) Jimmy Pitaro this isn’t something that ESPN wants to do. This is something that ESPN has to do, because sports fans are demanding it.”

Snowden made no secret of Penn’s intention to replicate the playbook Penn rolled out with theScoreBet in Ontario.

“The vision (will be) very similar to what we want to do in the U.S. with ESPN Bet. Picture you’re on theScore or ESPN app. You’re checking the stories Sunday morning before the game kicks off at one o’clock. You see what the money line is, the pointspread, the over/under, and you can actually put together your bet slip while you’re in the media app.”

Warming to the theme, Snowden said ESPN Bet will be the only fully integrated media-sports-betting app in North America and “starting next week on Tuesday, it will be live in the U.S.”

He added that 73% of the wagers recorded by theScoreBet in Ontario were placed from “the media (app) ecosystem. So think about that. If it translates similarly in the U.S., that’s hundreds of millions of Americans that are part of that ESPN ecosystem.”

If ESPN Bet gets “anywhere close” to the 73% figure, “you’ll see a tremendous amount of crossover and as I said earlier, sports bettors in America today view sports betting as a major piece of the sports entertainment experience. Having $5 on a parlay creates extra engagement.”

Mike Morrison, ESPN VP for sports betting and fantasy, said sports fans should anticipate much more integration of betting features and information into ESPN’s content. “We talk a lot about incorporating content across our ecosystem. You’ll begin to see a deeper leaning (into betting) editorially, in particular, what it means in terms of the game both in pregame shows and signature shows such as ‘Sports Center.’”

Snowden added that “the sports fan wants a betting experience as part of their sports consumption that is frictionless.”

The focus will be on providing a betting experience that is seamless, “so you can be in any of the ESPN apps and put together wagers and have that happen without feeling like you’re having to cheat on ESPN and go bet with somebody else. You can do that all within the same family.”

At the time of Penn’s Q3 results, Snowden said the aim would be to build “market share over time and not have a giant shotgun on day one and then you slowly leak market share,” with a digital breakeven/profitability timeline set for 2025.

ESPN also recently bought Comcast’s 33% stake in streaming-service Hulu for $8.6 billion, in the process gaining full ownership of the platform. This led observers to speculate whether it could become the first (and only?) broadcaster to successfully roll out a fully integrated single-screen experience for sports bettors.