In a wide-ranging interview at the Barrett Sports Media Summit in New York, ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro held fast to the company’s mission of “serving the sports fan anytime anywhere.” One of those places is sports betting apps. Is an ESPN sportsbook in the works?
In Nov. 2021, parent-company Disney did in-house research on whether they should get into sports betting. The research showed it would strengthen the ESPN brand and have no impact on Disney.
“Not only are ESPN fans okay with us doing more around sports betting, but they are also expecting more,” said Pitaro.
So, will ESPN be launching a sportsbook in Pennsylvania, New York or another state any time soon?
“We know from a fan perspective there is more to do here,” Pitaro told PlayPennsylvania when asked about ESPN’s sports betting plans. “Are we ultimately going to be a sportsbook? Don’t think so. We don’t have any plans right now. We don’t have any plans right now to create a book and build something. It’s incredibly complicated; getting licensed in each state is lot of work. There is something in-between that we could potentially do that takes some of the friction out of the betting process on our digital properties so that’s what we are looking at.”
How could ESPN get into sports betting
Is an ESPN sportsbook, in the words of Chris Berman, “Back, back, back, gone?” Not necessarily. They just don’t have any desire to build it from the ground up. Disney is looking to possibly partner with a third-party operator who would license the ESPN name.
Who could be a potential sports betting for ESPN? They were previously linked to Rush Street Interactive ($RSI).
“There’s logic to a deal between the two. BetRivers has struggled to make a dent in markets where it doesn’t have a big retail casino gaming presence and ESPNBet would surely change that,” commented gaming analyst firm Eilers & Krejcik.
A conversation with Jimmy Pitaro
Pitaro was named the Chairman of ESPN in October 2020. Previously, he served as president of the sports media behemoth. Jason Barrett, President of Barrett Sports Media, led a keynote conversation with Pitaro which covered a range of topics. Here are the highlights.
Media talent signing deals with sports betting companies
“There is no doubt it’s more competitive than ever. A few years ago it was Amazon and Apple. Now it’s all these betting providers spending all this money on talent. It’s a great environment to be talent today. We have the best talent team in the world today. Our goal is to let them know the power of ESPN and the platforms. If you want to grow to be a household name, ESPN still has the best platforms. I like our hand when we are competing against the betting operators and new media providers, but it’s not easy.”
“The ESPN app is really the top of the funnel. If you ask me what is the future of ESPN, it is the ESPN app. The tech works and it’s incredibly stable. I don’t say that lightly. In this world where everyone is acquiring scale, the infrastructure, the basic foundation has to work. Without that, nothing else matters. We have done a great job from a tech perspective and acquiring content.”
At the end of last quarter, ESPN+ announced 21.3 million subscribers which Pitaro says is significantly ahead of where they thought they would be. It is the only place you can find the entire “30 for 30” library.
“ESPN+ is the centerpiece. It is the jewel. It’s driven in large part by live events – UFC, La Liga, Bundesliga We’ve acquired rights for that platform exclusively. It’s complementary to linear. That exclusivity really helps drive audience. As we move forward we are going to keep acquiring more rights for ESPN+…”
“What we saw with the Manning Cast was rising tide. You look at our data and 80% of people who watched it were switching between the primary broadcast and the Manning Cast. I’d be lying if I told you we knew it was going to be this successful. We got creative here. We still feel like we are in the first inning of the first quarter. The alternative broadcast is incredibly important to ESPN. It’s in our DNA. You can expect to see more of it.”
“My goal is to work with the league to grow the game of football. I truly believe that if Thursday Night Football is a success, it’s great for Monday Night Football. We want the Thursday night package to be attractive and valuable. More people engage with the game and we ultimately think that will help us.
“It was a priority to continue to develop the relationship. My predecessors prioritized that relationship. My strategy is to constantly improve relationships and I do believe it has with the league. We are proud of the deal we struck. We got ‘flex.’ It was at the top of the list and we got it.”
Lead image John Raoux/AP