The future starts now for ESPN and Penn Entertainment, with the launch of ESPN Bet Tuesday.
The product represents Penn’s 10-year, $1.5 billion wager in the cultural sway of the U.S.’s biggest sports media brand after Penn’s partnership with Barstool Sports and subsequent creation of Barstool Sportsbook failed to break through. Barstool IP and talent helped the gaming company grab only 3% of sports betting market share nationwide. Penn also agreed to give ESPN roughly $500 million in equity warrants. The service will launch in the 17 states where Penn Entertainment holds licenses this week.
More from Sportico.com
In addition to getting the ESPN name, Penn will see the product integrated into ESPN’s linear and digital coverage. (The company recently renamed its ‘Daily Wager’ program ‘ESPN Bet Live,’ for instance.) Pre-launch mockups shared publicly showed ESPN Bet odds displayed prominently on the homepage of ESPN’s main app alongside the option to generate bet slips and track bets on that platform. Executives have even discussed linking ESPN fantasy data to bet offerings.
Key talking heads, starting with SportsCenter hosts Scott Van Pelt and Elle Duncan, will be tapped to promote gambling in ad campaigns. Notably, newsbreakers including Adam Schefter and Adrian Wojnarowski won’t be involved in those efforts—so-called “insiders” are barred from making picks or promoting them in the app. Additionally, all of the company’s reporters have been told not to bet on games they’re covering.
“There’s so much great content and IP at ESPN throughout the ecosystem,” Penn CEO Jay Snowden said at a conference last week. “We think about integrations around shows and SportsCenter, and talented people that are very involved with those shows are very excited about this.”
ESPN Bet’s launch comes ahead of a busy stretch for the network. We could see changes as soon as Tuesday night during the men’s college basketball Champions Classic—Duke plays Michigan State at 7 p.m., immediately followed by Kansas and Kentucky. The top teams in the NBA’s Eastern Conference, the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics, face off Wednesday night. Next week, Monday Night Football will air a Super Bowl rematch between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Philadelphia Eagles.
The brand’s debut also comes at a critical time for ESPN as it charts its digital future. Disney CEO Bob Iger recently declared that the network would be available outside of the cable bundle for the first time in 2025.
After the Penn deal was announced in August, Iger said, “[A sportsbook deal is] something that we’ve wanted to accomplish, obviously, because we believe there’s an opportunity here to significantly grow engagement with ESPN consumers, particularly young consumers.”
Best of Sportico.com