First up, let’s do some background.
We all know Penn Entertainment was billed as one of the pandemic success stories. At the time, few investors thought it had a big part to play in our Disney fairytale with its acquisition of Barstool Sports.
However, unlike our Disney tale of true love, Barstool and Penn was just never meant to be.
At the start of 2023, Penn sold Barstool back to Dave Portnoy for a single paltry dollar. This was mere months after completing the $500 million purchase. A poisoned apple, some might say.
Instead, enter the prince of our tale – Disney-owned ESPN.
This where our tale of true love begins and the story of ESPN BET.
A match made in heaven for ESPN and Penn
Following ESPN’s $1.5bn licensing partnership with Penn Entertainment, we certainly have an exciting US holiday season to watch.
Replacing Penn’s Barstool suitor with the largest sports media brand in the US is going to be incredibly exciting indeed. According to Penn’s latest trading update, it hopes to add up to $1.0bn to its long-term adjusted EBITDA potential.
ESPN BET’s 14 November debut is perfectly synced to capitalise on the busy sports calendar during Thanksgiving.
Highlights include NCAA college football rivalry week and the Super Bowl rematch of the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles, televised on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.
As we’ve heard from Penn’s Q3 trading update, we will be seeing ESPN implement an initial wave of integrations. These will target an estimated audience of 200 million across its multiple digital channels.
We’ll also see an advertising campaign rolled into action from ESPN SportsCenter anchors Scott van Pelt and Elle Duncan.
Like any true Disney prince, we arguably have a proposition that might be too good to resist. EPSN, after all, is the largest sports media brand in the US, with over 100 million unique monthly digital visitors.
Its social media presence tops 370 million followers, as well as boasting 25 million subscribers to its ESPN+ streaming service. ESPN is also the biggest brand on TikTok with more than 40 million followers worldwide.
We’re also going to see the brand rolled out across 17 states. As well as heavyweights New Jersey and Pennsylvania, this will incorporate every major US market (aside from New York).
ESPN BET launch: making the dream come true
In CEO and president Jay Snowden’s words, Penn think “this is an opportunity to really appeal to the masses”.
Penn may lack the muscle of DraftKings and FanDuel, but that doesn’t matter. Tomorrow’s launch will be an alliance with “the single best brand and platform in the US to reach sports fans and potential bettors”.
Delivering “a robust menu of promotion and integration across all of ESPN’s platforms”, this will be the third attempt at merging sports media and betting.
Following in Fubo and Fox Bet’s footsteps, the success of SkyBet in the UK is the holy grail being chased here. Where Fubo and Fox Bet have failed, Penn will look to turn that around.
They have everything they need to make that into a reality. “This is really just the next step in the process for us,” says Mike Morrison, ESPN vice-president for sports betting and fantasy.
“We feel at this point there’s enough national attention and interest,” he continued.
“Being able to reference betting odds is a fundamental part of telling the story of the game that’s about to happen. Who’s the favourite, who’s going to win, by how much, what’s the expectation?”
ESPN BET’s winning edge
At ESPN’s Edge Conference, held at the Seaport in New York City on Thursday 9 November, Snowden unveiled the dream.
The first piece of magic in ESPN BET’s launch is what Snowden sees as the trust factor.
Arguably ESPN BET’s launch will carry more weight than Fubo and Fox ever could – with 92% of bettors surveyed likely to use ESPN BET, as well as 65% of potential bettors agreeing they would too.
Second is the 360 sports media and betting ecosystem. ESPN’s tens of millions of media app users will now be able to raise a bet slip literally while reading match previews.
All the user needs to do is have a funded betting account. The journey will be seamless, going from news stories and video to an instant placement of bets. That’s before we even talk about in-play betting during matches on the app.
This closed-loop sports ecosystem of 360-degree fan engagement is a proposition that the world has never properly seen before.
Let’s take a quick look at theScore over in Ontario. This has effectively been Penn’s blueprint for the US and the numbers make for impressive reading.
Penn says 73% of total handle in Ontario came from its ecosystem users (those using the media app), as well as a further 50% converted from sportsbook into online casino. If that can be translated into the US, we’re looking at a base of hundreds of millions of users.
A tale as old as PASPA
Arguably this will be the final piece in the jigsaw that many have dreamt for digital since the repeal of PASPA.
The IP and talent that ESPN BET holds is a sight to behold and, if done correctly, we’re about to see a level of sports engagement made available that has no competition.
Alongside that, as users will now have a linked ESPN and ESPN BET account, there will quite literally never be a reason to leave for another sports provider, or indeed sportsbook.
Where Fubo and Fox Bet failed as they could never gain buy-in, EPSN BET has every chance to succeed. Not only that, but we’re also looking at a proposition that DraftKings and FanDuel can never compete with.
In short, this is going to be a sportsbook that will have the world’s biggest sports audience already merged into it.
If Penn’s Canadian success with theScore is anything to go by, the potential for the ESPN BET launch could be immense.
Will it be? Like all fairy tales, time will tell.