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ESPN pledges extra steps to protect impartiality

| By Marese O'Hagan
Chris Rogers, chief strategy officer at Penn Entertainment, has said that ESPN will implement extra guidelines for employees to protect impartiality ahead of the launch of ESPN Bet.
Massachusetts May

Rogers presented an operating plan for ESPN Bet during a public meeting of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission (MGC) on 7 November.

The meeting was held to review Penn Entertainment’s divesture of Barstool and its $1.5bn deal with ESPN, which will see it launch ESPN Bet next week. ESPN Bet will go live in 17 US states on 14 November, across states such as Massachusetts, Ohio, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Rogers confirmed that Penn employees will be prohibited from placing bets “at any facility, or through any mobile application or digital platform owned and operated by their employer”.

However, he explained that because ESPN is not an operator, “its employees’ employer does not own or operate any platform and therefore ESPN employees are not prohibited from wagering”.

For this reason, ESPN is developing employee guidelines, which will include “on-air talent to ensure ESPN maintains its high standards of journalistic integrity and that insiders remain independent from ESPN Bet”.

Marketing promotions

Rogers explained that ESPN will provide marketing services to Penn. Penn and ESPN have also developed a set of content guidelines for ESPN Bet, which apply to marketing through social media.

The marketing services will cover “odds attribution to ESPN Bet, on ESPN programming where applicable”. It will also include “editorial integrations, access to mutually agreed ESPN talent [and] traditional media integrations, such as television commercials and social media”. Any media integrations will be exclusive.

Rogers explained that efforts will be made to “suppress” marketing from those who have self-excluded, or are excluded for other reasons.

“These integrations will be subject to the comprehensive guardrails and will also include appropriate procedures to suppress marketing from customers who are excluded for any reason, including voluntary self-exclusion,” he explained.

Advertising will not target, or include, anyone under the age of 21. Advertising also will not take place “on a medium unless 73.6% of the audience is expected to be over 21, which is 75% in Massachusetts”.

Penn and ESPN have also adopted a policy regarding promoting ESPN Bet on college campuses. This prohibits promoting ESPN Bet to an in-person audience on ESPN show College GameDay. In addition, no ESPN Bet signage will be present on a college campus. This will apply even if the programming takes place off-campus, but the in-person audience is expected to be of college age.

No ESPN Bet sign-ups will take place while physically present on a college campus.

In July, the MGC fined three casinos for allowing players to place wagers on regular-season games featuring teams from Massachusetts colleges.

A different relationship

Rogers also emphasised the difference between Penn’s prior relationship with Barstool and its new relationship with ESPN.

“I also want to make it clear that, while this arrangement has some similarities to our previous arrangement with Barstool Sports, there is a key distinction,” he said. “Penn was previously the owner of Barstool Sports, whereas ESPN is a completely separate entity owned by the Walt Disney Company.”

In tandem with the ESPN deal, Penn sold Barstool Sports back to its founder, Dave Portnoy.

In concluding his presentation to the MGC, Rogers said Penn is looking forward to the launch of ESPN Bet.

“We are incredibly excited to launch ESPN Bet next week and are confident that our new marketing collaboration as this well-established and trusted brand will result in meaningful economic impact for the commonwealth,” he said. “Further, as an entity that is already licensed in Massachusetts, ESPN… is committed to the high standards of compliance and responsible gaming.”

In August, iGB spoke to Mike Morrison, vice-president of sports betting at ESPN, about how the company’s move into sports betting came to be. In its Q3 results released last week, Penn recorded a net loss of $724.8m. The quarter was impacted by the operator’s divesture of Barstool.

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