ESPN Bet Going For The Mint | Sports Betting News | LSR Podcast 212
Matt Brown (00:04):
Hello and welcome to episode number 212 of the LSR Podcast. My name is Matt Brown, joined each and every week by the brightest minds in all the gaming industry. With me, I have Adam Candee. You can follow him over on the Twitter machine, absolutely free. It is @AdamCandee, two E’s, no Y. Go over there, get that done, you should definitely do it. If you hate yourself, you can follow me @MattBrownM2. All right, Adam, so let’s go through what’s going on in North Carolina. Let’s talk about an interesting article that’s up over at LSR, but kick things off with us about ESPN Bet.
Adam Candee (00:40):
Well, a little bit of news and then definitely a press release that caused a clamor and I’m not sure it really needed to, but it did. It caused a clamor on the social medias where the new logo for ESPN Bet was released, and we’ll get back to that in a second, but it is released in part because we know that it is coming. We had heard prior to Thanksgiving and now we heard from an ESPN source that mid-November is likely. And Matt, I think it goes right back to something you had mentioned a while back that there is going to be a Super Bowl rematch on Monday Night Football coming up that feels like an absolutely perfect time to market your brand new sportsbook on what is going to be one of the most-watched NFL broadcasts of the entire season. Now, the logo for ESPN Bet actually drew a lot more attention among the LSR readership than did the announcement, or not announcement, but the word of when it might open.
So the ESPN Bet logo comes out, you assume a collaboration between ESPN and Penn, their sports betting partner, even though it came from the ESPN Bet side, and it was a dark blue, like a navy kind of blue background and the ESPN Bet and the Bet in particular, and the EB logo were in mint. That was the name of the color, mint. Mint was referred to as a color that is fun and unexpected. And a lot of people on Twitter were saying, “Yes, it was unexpected and no, it is not fun.” They were saying, “If the whole idea was to use the very recognizable and ubiquitous ESPN branding, then why are you changing the color scheme for the ESPN branding?” And so we did a little digging as we do at LSR, and a couple of sources involved in this whole thing told us that, “Listen, the idea was to be different. The idea was for this to be a distinct content stream for ESPN Bet content to be instantly recognizable and differentiated from other ESPN content.”
And also we had it pointed out to us that ESPN+, their streaming service and their insider content service focuses heavily on gold, and that their fantasy content has a little color wheel going on. So it’s not the first time that they’ve gone away from the traditional red and black and white ESPN branding. So some people out there on Twitter were saying, “Well, did they go away from red because red means losses and they didn’t want to imply losses.” I don’t think it was that. I mean, Fanatics didn’t go that far away from its own branding to have red involved in that. And maybe they do want something that is completely distinct either to signify that the Bet content is something that should be recognized as separate from the ESPN content or maybe just to make the people at Disney happy that ESPN Bet will never be confused with ESPN. There are lots of reasons you could speculate on out there, Matt, but this is certainly one that created at least a little 24-hour Twitter firestorm.
Matt Brown (03:58):
Yeah, I think the very last thing you said is what was my initial take on the whole thing was just as kind of like, “Hey, look, it’s definitely going to be something that has our name on it, but we definitely want everyone to know as well, that this is definitely different from ESPN content.” And so that was my initial take on it with how you wrapped it up there is just like, “Hey, look, yeah, it says ESPN, but it’s not like ESPN, like you’re watching SportsCenter or the news or you’re watching whatever it is. It is ESPN Bet content, which is a different kind of side entity to what we have going on.”
Again, that was my initial take. I know we don’t have a full on certainly 100% answer to why they would’ve gone about doing what they did, but I’m glad you brought up the other stuff too because that was the other thing that I had a discussion on the side was telling people I’m kind of like, “Well, I mean the fantasy stuff all looks different than the ESPN stuff as it is, and I actually didn’t even think about the ESPN+ stuff, but yeah, that actually is different too.” So within the family, they have had multiple different branding looks before and so I can understand why people want to jump on something like this and make it into a story, but I think it was nothing more than just distinguishing between that and just the traditional content.
Adam Candee (05:15):
I’m with you on the Disney part. It was the first thought that I had as well, but I also don’t want to blow that too far out of proportion because of what we just mentioned about the other brands, about the fact that fantasy is under its own umbrella, and more importantly that Plus is under its own umbrella because it’s not like Disney wants to hide from Plus. Disney wants to lean all the way into Plus. That’s exactly what they want it to be is the beginnings of being able to go direct to consumer with a lot of ESPN content. And look, they’ve done a good job in terms of differentiating the fantasy products. I mean, that is something that is very clearly separate.
I do think it’s a good thing in the long run if the content is clear and distinctly different from ESPN, and I say that as someone who is concerned about the long-term health of the sports betting industry on the regulated side. Because the less that you have the crossover, the less that you have the Stephen A. Smith five-leg, same-game parlay, and the more that you have, here’s ESPN Bet content that is smarter, that is clearer, that is different, that is more Stanford Steve than it is Stephen A., then I think you’re going to have a content stream that is something that is better for ESPN’s brand in the long term and ESPN Bet’s brand in the long term more specifically.
Matt Brown (06:41):
Yeah, no, absolutely. But again, we now have at least a target of when this is going to hit, and you and I are going to be super interested to see how quickly does this resonate amongst people. I know they’re going to be looking at casual bettors. I know they’re going to be looking at the people that are just familiar with ESPN and that becomes a trust. I’ve been watching ESPN for 30 years and so I trust them to be my sportsbook operator, so we’ll get numbers obviously way down the line, but I’m very interested to see how that all plays out. Tell me about what’s going on in North Carolina, my friend.
Adam Candee (07:19):
Well, North Carolina is the next big state that is going to launch its online sports betting market, and we are going through the usual machinations that you do as you get ready for a regulated sports betting market to launch. Now, remember that we were talking to you not that long ago, just a couple of weeks ago, about the fact that the North Carolina budget process had been used to make a pretty significant change to the North Carolina online sports betting law in which it went from, you’ll get preferential consideration for getting a sports betting license if you are partnered with a professional sports organization somewhere in the state of North Carolina, to you have to partner with one of these sports organizations in North Carolina.
We reported on it plenty. Pat Evans talked to a lot of folks in North Carolina who essentially said, “Yeah, you might want to look at some of the folks who might’ve been left out of this process otherwise, like racetracks, like golf courses that might not have otherwise been able to get a piece of the sports betting pie as those who were pushing the change.” We talked about it on the podcast a couple of weeks ago that no one would actually take full credit for getting this put into the bill. It just magically appeared somewhere in the budget. No one wanted to put their name on it as the person who made that change, but it did pass, and that’s part of the law now.
So we’re into the rulemaking process, and within the rulemaking process, we heard something that has become very familiar over the last few months across the country, and that is that the initial draft of rules in North Carolina is going to ban the DFS pick’em games that mirror prop betting. The language is very clear on the fact that anything that gives the appearance of being sports betting is not going to be allowed. We have a statement from the Coalition for Fantasy Sports that represents in part PrizePicks and Underdog essentially saying, “Yep, we were assured that we were going to be able to operate in some capacity in North Carolina.” I don’t know what that ultimately means. I mean, it’s either it’s in the law or it’s in the rules or it’s not in the law and the rules. I don’t think there are any handshake agreements that are going to be honored on this down the line.
But the question’s going to become, is this going to be like Michigan, like New York, like Florida, like Wyoming, where it is a hard no, or is it going to look more like Colorado in the long run where the game was significantly tweaked to where it is now something that I don’t think the sports betting companies would worry about all that much? The product doesn’t exist in Colorado where it’s not just pick two over/unders, where it’s pick four or more outcomes based only on fantasy points. That’s something I think that the DraftKings and the FanDuels of the world are going to be fine living with because if you listen to any NFL coverage this year, and I’ve listened to a lot on Westwood One when I’m in the car with their national broadcasts, if you hear an ad for PrizePicks or Underdog, they’re not talking about four leg parlays based on fantasy points. Everything is make two picks over or under. So that’s the product that they know is the money maker, and that’s the one that is going to be at issue in North Carolina as they continue through the rulemaking process.
Matt Brown (10:31):
Yeah, it is certainly something too, I think that’s just more and more steam on this. It’s the middle of football season right now. A lot of these other companies, a lot of the sportsbook companies are focused still on trying to maximize this short window that they have for acquisition and reactivation with the customers in the states that they already are part of. But you got to think as things slow down, Adam, that the targets and the sites on these other places might get a little bit more dicey with all that trying to make some noise. I can only imagine. I mean, this is all speculation.
Adam Candee (11:04):
It is, and you can look at the PR strategy that it feels like some of the DFS companies are running and realize that they’re trying to negotiate this in the public and they’re trying to frame how this whole thing goes. They’re trying to frame it as DraftKings and FanDuel versus us when really it’s regulators versus you. And in the end, it is only a matter of what the regulator says. This is the analogy that I was making for people as we were talking about it over the last couple of weeks. You can watch sports all day long, and you can see the coach on one side of a basketball game, of a football game arguing with the referees, pointing out something that the other team is doing and saying, “Hey, they’re breaking the rule. You need to get that. They’re breaking the rule.”
Now it’s up to the referee to decide whether the other team is actually breaking the rule. And if they throw a flag on something that the other team does, it ultimately doesn’t matter who said you are breaking the rule. It matters that you are breaking the rule. And so what the fantasy companies are trying to do is pin it back on DraftKings and FanDuel and saying, “Well, they’re the ones who are going and telling the regulators that this is something that shouldn’t be done. So this is them being anti-competitive and them against us.” When in the end, it really doesn’t matter how the regulators got to the point where they said, “This violates our rules and laws.” Because in the end, if it violates the rules and laws, then it does. That’s just the end of it. And this will ultimately most likely be litigated in a court. And that’s how this will go down in the long run.
It’s going to take some heavy enforcement action, it’s going to take this being challenged in court. We’ll finally understand what’s going on. We’ll finally get, maybe if we’re lucky, I cross my fingers, I hope we’ll get a definition of what in the holy hell DFS plus means as we’ve been pitched from a number of people lately because there’s no such thing as DFS plus. And in the end, this is going to end up in whether it is a legislature, whether it is in a court, and that’s the only thing that’s going to matter. That’s the only thing that’s going to matter is what a court says about this in the long run, because these companies have their legal argument, the regulators feel the way they do, and right now it doesn’t matter because they’re going to keep operating until there’s some sort of enforcement action taken or not.
Matt Brown (13:27):
Yep, I agree 100% and there’ll be pivots made along the way as well. I mean, listen, I get these job posting emails and things and stuff like that. I mean, for well over the last eight months, Underdog has been putting together a sports betting team. I mean, we know where it’s headed. We know what the end goal is for all that as well. I mean, I don’t know how soon that’s going to get turned on or how soon they have plans to get it going. But like I said, I mean I’ve been getting job postings from Underdog for six to eight months about them trying to fill out a sports betting team.
Adam Candee (13:59):
Yeah. And look, to be fair to Underdog, they’ve been very clear about that. They’ve never been shy about the fact that the ultimate ambition for them is sports betting.
Matt Brown (14:06):
Adam Candee (14:07):
Now, PrizePicks is different. PrizePicks has not stated those ambitions in the same way. They would like to stay in this gray area as they see it between the two. But I’ll point to another job listing, Matt, that we saw at LSR for a company called Sleeper that is in this same space. And they were looking for someone to help with communications and part of what they wanted, they listed very clearly, someone who has experience in crisis communications and in dealing with adverse situations with regulators. They’re ready for this fight. They see it coming. They know exactly what’s happening.
Matt Brown (14:44):
All right, Adam, let’s close things out here. Of course, John Holden does some really great stuff for us over on the site, and he has an article up in which we want to touch on, of course, to get the full breadth of everything. We want you to go over and read it over on legalsportsreport.com, but we at least want to bring it up here and bring it to your attention.
Adam Candee (15:01):
Yeah, I thought this was a very well-thought piece by John. And to be fair to John, he actually wrote this a little while ago, and we decided to run it now because we thought it fit the time very well. But we said that John’s piece is one that kind of highlights where the coverage of the sports betting industry not only has been but is going. And he talks about the fact that there have been complaints from within the industry about the way certain things are covered. There are complaints about the New York Times piece, the series that ran at the end of last year that has shaped a lot of what has been discussed over the course of 2023.
And John’s point was essentially to say, “You know what? If you’re complaining about all sports betting coverage, if you don’t want things to be critical, and I mean critical in an objective way, a critical eye being cast towards something, a standard of news being applied to journalistic coverage of the industry, if you don’t like the way that’s being done, just be careful what you wish for. Because if you don’t get that coverage from people who know, from people who are within the industry and who follow this day to day, if you’re not getting that level of nuance, you’re really not going to like it when outside people start coming in and trying to cover the industry because it’s not like the big boys of the world, the big boys and girls out there are going to stop writing about sports betting.”
I just saw another piece from Vice about problem gambling. Everyone is parachuting in to do their piece right now. And more often than not, it is being covered at a surface level sometimes well enough, sometimes not well at all. And I think it’s the complaint that anyone within a very nuanced industry would have about coverage that comes in from the outside. Read John’s piece. I think it makes a compelling case to say no one within the industry is here to cheerlead and have it be a good thing in the long run. You want this industry to be smartly covered by those who follow it day to day.
And before anyone gets to the point where they try to say that we’re out there sub-tweeting the rest of the world at LSR by saying this in the first place, of course we trust in our coverage. Of course, we feel good about what Legal Sports Report does. That’s why we’re here. We’re here to try to give a thoughtful, nuanced, contextual picture of what’s going on in the legal sports betting industry. And also, so when the mainstream media is coming in and looking for places to start their reporting and places that have been talking about this, that they talk to Matt, that they talk to me, that they talk to the Legal Sports Report team, that they talk to those who have been following this for a long time and be able to get that full nuanced picture. So that when this goes out to the broader world and when it makes its way into the hands of politicians and of regulators, that is the smartest possible coverage that you can get.
Matt Brown (17:57):
And this is in no way us saying like, “Hey, guys out there, stay in your lane.” This is not a stay-in-your-lane take or anything like that because like you said, the coverage is going to happen one way or another. The coverage is coming. It is too big of a thing that’s going on right now in the sports world. I mean, listen, outside of the actual sports themselves, sports betting is the most popular thing going on in the sports world. And so everyone is going to try to get a piece of it, whether that be clicks or from a monetary standpoint and all that. And this is not us saying like, “Hey, New York Times and hey, USA Today and whatever, stay in your lane. Report on the news and all this.” No, it’s just saying you’re going to do it anyway, and they’re going to do it anyway. Obviously, it’s easy for us to tout the stuff we do, and so we will. But there are other really good reporting out there as well inside the industry of people who know what they’re talking about.
And so, Adam, it’s more us saying like, “Hey, listen, welcome and embrace the people who are covering this on a day-to-day basis from at least a ground level knowledge base of how the industry works and the functionality of not only the legislative side of things, but from the business side of things as well.” And instead of looking at it as if it’s some sort of attack on the industry or some sort of, oh, you guys are only looking to point out the bad things, or you guys don’t want to highlight all that stuff, it’s like, no, that’s not the case at all. It’s just we’re in this day-to-day. We see the things go on, and we got to talk about those things and try to do it in the best way possible because as you mentioned, it can get butchered.
Listen, we’re pretty critical of the industry as we should be, but we’ve seen some unfair takes on the sports betting industry from these other outlets because they’re coming from a position in which they don’t really have a great knowledge base, and they’re picking the low hanging fruit, and that’s not fair to the industry either.
Adam Candee (19:49):
Very well said, Matt. And to tack on to that a little bit, the biggest misconception in my opinion that comes from sports betting coverage in the mainstream media that is under-informed or uninformed is the idea that sports betting started five years ago. The idea that this is the only time that it has ever happened that does not understand PASPA, that does not understand the mob roots and why the Wire Act is what it is and why it’s been applied to sports betting and go back and back and back, that don’t understand the Nevada sports betting industry going back decades. It’s not new. The breadth of it is new. Obviously, the involvement of the leagues and some of the hypocrisy that’s been involved there is something that has happened in the last five years, but it is not a brand new thing.
And that’s part of why John wrote what he did was to say, “Listen, the people that … If you’re unhappy with what’s happening inside the sports betting industry, then you need to understand that this is not a situation where sports betting media, sports media, any media is here to carry water for anyone. It is not some sort of a situation where you have to assume that a rising tide lifts all boats.”
What you do is you paint a fair picture, an honest picture of what’s going on out there, and you hope for the best. Because what happens, Matt, to the point of what you just said, is it’s going to be covered one way or the other. And if you’re talking about politicians getting their hands on things and ultimately regulation that you don’t want from a federal level especially, then you know they’re going to get their hands on the New York Times a lot quicker than they’re going to get their hands on Legal Sports Report. We know that we don’t have any sort of inflated picture of who we are over here at our glorified blog. We know exactly who we are. But we also know that we and a handful of other sites that do what we do on a day-to-day basis are a lot more connected to this than the folks who are parachuting in from major media outlets.
Matt Brown (21:57):
Guys, you can read the whole article over at legalsportsreport.com. Of course, everything else we’ve talked about is over there. And of course, a couple other things being posted as we speak. So take in all the great words that Adam and the team are doing over there at legalsportsreport.com. If you haven’t already, go ahead hit that subscribe button. We do appreciate the support, everything we do absolutely free. So do thank you, helping us climb up those charts and more people finding this very podcast along the way. You can follow Adam on the Twitter machine @AdamCandee. Two E’s, no Y; @MattBrownM2 for me if you hate yourself. And guys, listen, sometimes it’s the devil you know, Adam. We’ll be the devil people know. It’s the devil you know, we will be.
Adam Candee (22:36):
I’m looking up right now at the very first column picture that I had when I was at the Arizona Daily Sun when I was 22 years old, and it’s from Adam Candee’s Sweet Talk column, and someone in the newsroom came and drew devil horns on me, and that was decades ago. That was a long time ago. So I have been the devil you know for a long time. I am perfectly comfortable there.
Matt Brown (22:59):
For Adam, I’m Matt, talk to you guys next week.