EPISODE 216 | LSR Podcast

Did ESPN Bet App Launch Live Up To The Hype? | Sports Betting News


26 min
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Did ESPN Bet App Launch Live Up To The Hype? | Sports Betting News | LSR Podcast 216

After months of buildup, ESPN and Penn Entertainment launched ESPN Bet into the wild this week. What did the crew think of the revamped app and how ESPN promoted it? Also, Ohio bans two of the most comically bad criminals in the sports world, DFS companies score a temporary win in North Carolina, and Hard Rock takes some massive bets in Florida.

Full transcript

Matt Brown (00:10):

Hello and welcome to episode number 216 of the LSR Podcast. My name is Matt Brown, joined each and every week by the brightest of minds in all the gaming industry. With me, I have the man, the myth, the legend, Adam Candee. You can find his work over at legalsportsreport.com, over on the Twitter machine @AdamCandee, two E’s no Y. And if you hate yourself, you can follow me @MattBrownM2. Everything we do, absolutely free. So please go ahead, subscribe, rate, review all the places that you get your podcasts, and if you’re watching us on video, how you doing? Hit that subscribe button down below.


We will talk some Ohio. We will talk some North Carolina. We’ll talk some just random thoughts about the industry in general, but it came, it is here. Let’s talk about it, Adam. This was something that was a major topic of the podcast over the last two years when we were talking about, hey, could there be a disruptor? Is there somebody out there that could challenge the big guys? Who is the brand that might come with enough gravitas that could actually do this? And every time we would mention Fanatics, but that’s still to be seen, right? I mean, we’ll see how that all goes, but every time we would always end up back at ESPN.

ESPN, Penn Entertainment launched ESPN Bet into the wild


Well, ESPN goes and does the deal with Penn. ESPN is putting their weight behind this as looks like because we’re getting some of the big names to endorse this. ESPN Bet does launch this week.

Adam Candee (01:28):

Launched on Tuesday, and Matt, I think the most notable part was that ESPN leaned all the way in and leaned all the way in immediately. They had ads for it on the app, they had ads for it on television. They had their personalities like Scott Van Pelt pushing it. They immediately had odds from ESPN Bet prominently featured within SportsCenter with Scott Van Pelt talking about them. They had another ad with Elle Duncan on the air just over the last couple of days.


They’re absolutely leaning in and what we’ve seen is that, at least in terms of downloads … and I’m going to stop right here for everybody who’s getting ready to throw something at their phone when they hear me talking about downloads, I know that downloads don’t equal profit. I know they don’t equal anything, but two days in, we don’t have a lot of other ways to measure what’s going on here.


Now, back to the point, they are number one in terms of free apps in the app store for downloads. That’s partially affected by Barstool customers being asked to download the ESPN Bet app to continue. So in the end, what we see here is an app that by the first few screenshots that I’ve seen, not particularly different than what was being put out there under the Barstool app. I don’t know that it was maybe the single most visually appealing app that I’ve seen thus far, functionality-wise. We got to give it some time to play out and see if people are actually willing to stick with those downloads, right? Because it looked like a $200 promo for just about anybody out there who was able to download ESPN Bet and be active with it in a legal state where Barstool had been.


But that push that we talked about, Matt, the push that you had referenced for such a long time of using the ability they have to reach more people than anyone else, that part, there’s no question about. They did all of it and they’re going to continue to do all of it with one of the most anticipated Monday Night Football games of the year coming up this week.

Matt Brown (03:31):

Yeah, they leaned into it. We targeted, we said it was no coincidence that this was going to be the launch date with the Eagles and the Chiefs coming up. Another thing that they did, Daily Wager is no longer. Daily Wager is now ESPN Bet Live. So, that is now a rebrand of that show that they’re going to be pushing the branding awareness as well. So, just tons of stuff that’s going on over there with all of it.


And as you mentioned, the biggest question that I had heading into this was is this just going to be slap a sticker on something and then it’s just like, “Oh, it’ll work on its own.” Or were they going to get the people behind it? I mean, look, they rebranded a whole show that’s on television five days a week. They have Scott Van Pelt, they have whatever.


Like we said, I cannot wait to see what happens this Monday and how it’s going to be featured in the Monday night broadcast. That’s going to be something that’s fairly interesting. Do they bring it into … which would be weird because of the other endorsements, how do they work it into the Manningcast and things? Because the Manning family obviously own the Caesars side of things, so pretty interested to see how that plays out as well. I did download the app. I have been messing around with it. Of course I can’t use it here in Nevada, but I have been messing around with it.


Good options. It seems to function well. This is stuff that you and I having been living in Nevada for as long as we did and stuff, is just everything being prominently featured and very easy to navigate and stuff like that, which is stuff you just don’t get in Nevada when it comes to the apps.


And so, very much out in front of you of here’s what’s topical, here’s going on, here’s the next thing that’s going to happen. All those things. Like you said, digging into the weeds, I haven’t been able to deposit, I haven’t been able to actually bet on it, so I can’t really give it a critique from that standpoint. Next time I head to Colorado or Arizona or whatever, I’ll give it a whirl. But yeah, I mean off the cuff, mess around with it without just being able to play around seems like it’s fine. And as you mentioned, the ESPN branding behind it and the ESPN push probably is going to get it, a ton of downloads probably is going to get a lot of people exposed. Can they hold onto those people? Will be the big question.

Adam Candee (05:42):

Of course. And what we’ve started to see now in the market is that the companies that do have better product, it’s starting to win out. We heard for so long, it’s going to all be about product, it’s going to be all about product. Well, it actually is starting to play that way now.


We knew that DraftKings had a good product. We knew that FanDuel had a product that it had been working on for a very long time. It’s also very good and the two market leaders have been able to leverage that into not only keeping the people they brought in the first place, but getting some people who take offers from other places, take promos, to come back home to them and spend. And thought it was really interesting in the DraftKings investor day that they did earlier this week, where they talked about the progressive parlays and other things that they’re going to be doing now. They also discussed the fact that they’ve been learning that they really have been trying to refine based on what they’ve been bringing in and making the app better.


And I know that sounds simple, it sounds like, well, wouldn’t any business try to take more data on what the customer wants and turn it into a better product? Not necessarily when it comes to sports betting apps. Some places have just thrown the technology out and said, “OK, now we have an app and hopefully that’ll monetize for us.” They have really reinvested DraftKings, FanDuel and a number of others as well, but just to name those two in specific, because of the market leaders right now, they really have tried to be responsive to what people want and need out of the app. And that’s going to be the real challenge for Penn Entertainment, for theScore using the technology that Penn bought in that $2 billion purchase of theScore and now is trying to leverage in a nearly $2 billion deal with ESPN.

Matt Brown (07:25):

Yeah, you look here, obviously I opened the app just now, the first thing you see is an odds boost for Monday Night Football. Of course, the headlining game here, Monday Night Football, they’re not worried about pushing the NBA stuff and all that. They’re going about it smart. Because we’ve seen some of the European apps that are getting functionality from over there and they’ve gotten much, much better about it and all that. It used to be there’d be Monday Night Football, or Thursday Night Football I should say tonight, there’d be Thursday Night Football and the leading thing would be some random eighth game of the year NBA thing. So you’re like, “Whoa, what are you doing? Lean into Thursday Night Football? What are you doing? Let’s definitely get that going.”


Adam, one of the other things we just … Credit to Penn where credit is due, they learned, I think somewhere along the way as well, they thought with the Barstool stuff, that it was just kind of like, “OK, we’re going to turn the lights on and everyone will come and everyone is going to get … Everyone’s going to just download this, it’s going to be fine.”


Well, we did see not only the push from ESPN, but partnerships made with Penn, with other companies and things like that, to help publish and get the app and things out there. I think learning from the whole deal with Barstool that yes, a brand can be super recognizable, A brand can certainly carry some weight, but at the end of the day, you still got to get it in front of people. You still got to figure out how to get it in front of people, and they didn’t do that with ESPN, what they did with Barstool.

Adam Candee (08:49):

Yeah, I think it’s important to note the fact that ESPN as a media organization is approaching this completely differently from Barstool, and that shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone. Remember when these two companies spent about 10 minutes trying to get in bed together and ESPN saw the first piece of Barstool content on its air and was like, “Whoa, no, no, no, no, we’re good here.” They are different organizations.


And so, Barstool really didn’t set a whole lot of rules for the way they were going to go after this. But I’ll tell you, Matt, we saw right from the beginning that ESPN and Disney set out rules for its personalities and said that certain personalities were not going to be able to bet on certain things. Their insiders, as we reported at Legal Sports Report, like Adrian Wojnarowski, like Jeff Passan, et cetera, these guys are not allowed to wager on the sports that they cover, which only makes sense. And maybe Barstool didn’t have the same issue because their sphere of influence isn’t the same as ESPN’s, but it is important for perception to be clear about the fact of who can do what at any given time, which there never was any of when it came to the Barstool situation.

Matt Brown (09:56):

Yeah, I look at this and it’s something I think that ESPN did that’s fairly smart right from the get-go here, because we did see an incident a little bit ago with an insider. There’s no need bringing up names and but with an insider. And the thing was, it’s like even when you’re a super, super insider, you’re going to be wrong every now and then, and then when you’re wrong about something, then it looks like you could possibly have been trying to influence things and whatever and all that.


And yeah, it’s not very often Woj is wrong, and it’s not very often Schefter’s wrong, but they’re still relying on information from other people, and other people could be wrong somewhere along the way. And it’s just good to say like, “Hey, look, this is off the table for any of these dudes. They are literally just reporting what they hear, what they are being told, what their trusted sources are telling them, and that is not going to lead to them then in turn taking set information and using it for any personal gain.” And so, I’m glad that they were able to go ahead, get that out there and just make sure that that’s not anything we have to question moving forward.

Adam Candee (10:53):

Yeah, absolutely. And look, this is a time of incredible change when it comes to the sports betting industry and for anyone who had the Barstool app, it basically suddenly disappears. You had the Barstool app and all of a sudden now you have the ESPN app.


And I want to take just one moment here, Matt, to acknowledge some discussion that I’ve seen out there in the sports betting industry space over the last 24 hours or so. And I’m not going to give the person or people at the heart of this the satisfaction of mentioning their names because I don’t think it really requires that. But there was someone out there who said that we in our little sphere here in the Legal Sports Report area, were quote, “rooting for Barstool to fail.” That is ridiculous. And that is far, far from the truth.


We covered Barstool and Penn as a journalistic organization. We feel comfortable with the fact that we did the same with Barstool that we would do with any other sportsbook that was coming into the regulated space with the same questions, with the same challenges. Absolutely 100% equal time to all of that equal coverage, equal time with all of it. The idea that we would root for any sportsbook to fail is frankly ridiculous, and above and beyond that, for anyone who would suggest that, I would say go back and find my very, very bad year-end predictions from about three years ago in which I said I thought Barstool was going to be the number three sportsbook in America. I thought they were going to be right there behind FanDuel and DraftKings. I saw a path to success for Barstool, and I thought it was going to be something that stuck and resonated with a certain portion of the betting public. Didn’t happen that way. We can all sit and debate the reasons for that for a long time to come, but the idea that we are rooting for someone to fail is so ludicrous that it’s hard to get my head around, but I just wanted … In case anybody is in the same little circles here reading certain things and listening to our podcast, let’s just get this taken care of real quick. False and ridiculous.

Matt Brown (13:08):

Yeah, I mean, listen, there was … I think with anyone that was analyzing kind of the partnership from the get-go questioning a major deal with a gaming company with a … look, calling a spade a spade, a controversial brand. And that is fair. That is a fair assessment. Barstool is a controversial brand.


You could ask them, they would tell you that they are, they’re self-described. They relish in the fact that they’re a controversial brand. And so, us having at least some questions about all of that, I think is fair. And I think that somewhere along the way that got misconstrued, as you’re saying, as rooting for someone to fail as opposed to going, that’s just an interesting choice in the grand scheme of things.


But listen, all I’ve ever done is plotted to the golden goose of whoever got a deal with ESPN. I think that this is a major, major win for Penn, and I think that they went about it the right way. You cut ties with a loser, you join up with a winner. I mean, so it just is what it is. I mean, yes, we report the news, we report whatever, but I think fair criticism of a controversial partnership is in what we do and what we’re trying to bring to the people out there I think is fair. I think it’s in bounds.

Adam Candee (14:18):

I feel 100% confident that every question we raised and every issue we discussed, we were not the only ones talking about it.

Ohio bans two of the most comically bad criminals in the sports world

Matt Brown (14:27):

Yeah, I agree, 100%. All right, so let’s talk about, you guys remember this from a little bit ago. We talked about it here on the pod, but there was someone who just did not use their brain at all. And in the college sports realm, Adam, for people who forgot a little bit, a quick refresher, and then what is coming of this?

Adam Candee (14:47):

Earlier this year, what we saw out of the state of Ohio and the state of Alabama is something that I hope we never see again in the regulated sports betting industry because it is so comically stupid and incredibly irresponsible that it needs to be made the example for everyone to look at. So, if you don’t remember, what happened here was someone showed up at the BetMGM Sportsbook at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati, RIP as they have now moved that out of the ballpark. Showed up and wanted to get $100,000 down on a college baseball side.


Just stop and take that in for a moment. Just try to imagine where on Earth in the regulated market you’re going to be able to do that. And the details of the story of course-

Matt Brown (15:39):

That’s a daily handle for all college baseball games, for one bet, seriously.

Adam Candee (15:43):

Well, I mean most … what would you say, Matt? Maybe a market-making book would take $5,000, maybe?

Matt Brown (15:52):

Maybe, yeah.

Adam Candee (15:53):

Maybe, right.

Matt Brown (15:54):

But even then, they’re probably going to go like, “Oh, somebody knows something.”

Adam Candee (15:58):

Oh yeah, “We’re moving the number on that, based on that.” But yeah, $100,000 bet on an Alabama-LSU baseball game. And what it was was this person was, we’ll call them an associate of the Alabama baseball coach Brad Bohannon, who had last-second scratched the starting pitcher on Friday night for Alabama against one of the best baseball teams in the country in Louisiana State. And that information somehow made it from the manager to this person who tried to then use that information to go place a very, very large wager on LSU.


And the news of this is that, as expected, the Ohio Casino Control Commission, their staff has recommended that both Bohannon and Bert Neff, the person who was trying to get the bet down, be placed on the involuntary exclusion list and no longer be allowed to wager anywhere in Ohio. It’s expected that will pass. It’s expected, in my brain, that that was the only possible outcome that could have come out of this situation in the long run. So, if you’re thinking about doing comically stupid things to bet on US regulated sports betting, please know that there are people out there watching to make sure that you cannot.

Matt Brown (17:16):

I can only imagine every other coach in the country was just sitting back going, “Look, dude, what in the holy hell were you …” I mean, what in the holy hell were you thinking? And how in the world did you go from thought to brain to out the mouth, to all of the things that ended up happening somewhere along the way? Insanity. But as you mentioned, I can’t imagine anyone being this dumb, but this is certainly good. Let’s go ahead, boom, get this out there, make sure this doesn’t happen again in college sports. But holy mackerel, what a giant blender. Let’s head to North Carolina.

DFS companies score a temporary win in North Carolina

Adam Candee (17:57):

So, a couple of pieces of news from North Carolina, from their state regulator this week, and they are related pieces of news. We found out that launch date is not going to be the first available date. January 8th, 2024, was the first possible date under the online sports betting law that passed earlier this year in North Carolina, that the industry could have launched. That date will not be the launch date. It will be after that, for certain.


The regulator pointed toward the change that was made in September in the budget process in North Carolina, that went from operators gaining their license through the state, to operators having to go through a qualified enterprise such as a sports team, a golf course, a racetrack, and be tethered to that operation in order to get their license. We still have time that needs to be spent for those deals to be consummated in the first place. And then all of the relevant approvals to go through the state regulator.


They have essentially a six-month period starting on January 8th to be able to launch. Matt, I think you and I know where the mile markers are on all of this. The Super Bowl is the first one. March Madness is the second one. You have to believe they’re going to meet one of those two to be able to launch the industry.


Now, the second piece of news that came out of that is related to expediting the launch, and it is the rare piece of positive news for DFS operators wanting to have paid pick’em games.


Because what happened after the comment period on the initial draft of rules closed was that staff went to the commission and said, “Look, we have different views coming in on this. We have some people who think that paid pick’ems should be allowed. We have some people who don’t think it should be allowed. We’re not going to be able to solve this in time for launch if you want to get this thing off the ground anytime soon. So we propose moving that out of the rules for now.”


So, it’s at least a temporary win in the state of North Carolina for PrizePicks, Underdog, Betr, Sleeper, all of the companies that are offering the controversial pick’em games that mirror player props in most markets in the country right now. So, that is at least a step in a positive direction for the time being for North Carolina.


Don’t take it as North Carolina said, “This is OK.” It is more that North Carolina said, “We got to get this industry off the ground, and this is a thorny, complicated issue that we do not want to have to sort out before we get everything started.”

Hard Rock takes some massive bets in Florida

Matt Brown (20:18):

One other little nugget here I want to bring up, and this isn’t necessarily news, news, but you and I have talked several different times mainly on other types of programming just about, you see these big bet things that come through on Twitter and it’s like, “Hey, person X put down 200K on this,” or “Hey, person X took a bet of 350,000 on this,” et cetera, et cetera. We don’t know where that money is coming from. That does not mean the person is a good sports bet. That does not mean the person even does sports betting for a living. It could be a hedge fund guy who just, that’s toy money and whatever it is, is what it is.


But one of the things that has come through here recently, Adam, I thought is fairly interesting, and I don’t know if it’s because, hey, it’s great promotion. Hey, they’re so cash flush, it doesn’t matter whatsoever. Or, hey, let’s try and make as much money as we can because we don’t know how long this may last considering it’s been turned off on us before.


But Hard Rock is taking massive bets. And Hard Rock is taking massive bets on bets that even the likes of Circa and all these other ones wouldn’t take. They’re taking like million-dollar first-half bets on games and things like that where you are just … You don’t see this type of stuff outside of the Super Bowl here in Vegas.


And again, it’s marketing, sure. And the reason is, is this is not even getting fed out by the usual media. It’s like they’re posting it on their own. They’re literally putting out on their own Twitter, “Hey, we just took a million-dollar first-half bet on this game,” and whatever and all this stuff. So, it’s just an interesting difference here, what we’re seeing going on over there. One, I guess, only game in town. Two, it is free publicity because everyone starts retweeting it and talking about it and all that.


I don’t know, maybe that does draw some people to get on a plane and even head to Florida when it’s all said and done, because that is the type of action you can’t get down, like I said, outside of just a super major event, pretty much anywhere else in the country.

Adam Candee (22:12):

Yeah, understand something when you see that. That is not the kind of money that any known, sharp sports bettor is able to wager in the regulated market anywhere. Frankly, they’re probably not able to get that down offshore either. If there’s someone who’s known as either a sharp person, a sharp group, a known bettor, whatever the case might be, that is not the type of bet that gets accepted anywhere.


So maybe it’s marketing, as you said, maybe it’s big casino players who are coming over and wanting to place some bets on sports. I mean, one of those seven-figure bets was on a parlay. So, that is something that is of note as well. Keep in mind, the Seminole Tribe operating the Hard Rock casinos in Florida, we don’t know a lot about what the tribal approach to sports betting will be, right?


And I’m not saying that we speak for tribes as a monolith. This is just the Seminole approach to doing it. This is just the Hard Rock approach to doing it. But it is interesting to see that they are willing to take on this kind of risk. And maybe as you said, Matt, maybe they see it as PR, maybe they see it as a way to get the name out. But what is notable to me is that they have no competition. This is not a matter of, we’re trying to get you into Hard Rock Bet so that you don’t go with DraftKings or FanDuel. You can’t play with DraftKings or FanDuel in Florida.


Now, maybe it’s, we’re trying to get you out of the offshore market. Maybe it’s, we’re trying to take you away from whatever book you have. But again, there aren’t a lot of bookies out there who are taking million-dollar wagers either. So it really is something to watch.

Matt Brown (23:45):

Yeah, it was interesting. I came to the conclusion that it was advertising for people to like, “Hey, if you want to come to Florida, we’ll take your action.” I mean, it’s like if you’re that rich anyway, get on your jet from New York, or get on your jet from LA, or whatever it is, and you can come out and we’ll take it.


I mean, that’s where I ended up with it all. But it’ll be interesting to see as this progresses because man, that was the first thing. I’m like, “You know what? OK, a million …” It was like, whoa, that’s a first-half bet. Wait a minute, that is a million-dollar first-half bet. What is going on here?

Adam Candee (24:19):

Well, and keep in mind, it was only a couple of years ago that we had the proxy betting violation in New Jersey for someone being allowed to bet from where? From Florida, to be able to get major bets down in New Jersey, that turned out to be a problem.

Matt Brown (24:35):

Yeah, it’s interesting. We’ll certainly update you guys here over the next month or so, to see if those are still popping up out there, or if they maybe pumped the brakes a little bit on all of that. But it was just some interesting stuff that I saw come through this week as well, here in this crazy sports betting industry that we have going on.


He is Adam Candee. You can find him over on the Twitter machine, @AdamCandee, two E’s, no Y. I’m @MattBrownM2 over on all the little social things if you want to follow me because you hate yourself. And of course, legalsportsreport.com for all of the words, for these stories that we talk about. Go in, please take the time, read in depth for all the great work that Adam and company are doing over there. For Adam, I’m Matt. Talk to you guys next week.

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