Business By The Books: ESPN Chairman ‘Very Pleased’ With Early Sports Betting Results


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It is still the early days in ESPN‘s journey into sports betting, but chairman Jimmy Pitaro already likes what he sees from ESPN Bet.

“It’s all far-exceeding our expectations,” Pitaro said Tuesday at the Axios What’s Next Summit. “And I think if the Penn folks were here, they’d say it’s exceeding their expectations too.

“That said, this is literally the first inning, and that’s an understatement. This is a 10-year partnership that we’ve entered into. But out of the gate, in November, we were very pleased with what we saw for the first few months.”

Penn CEO Jay Snowden told a JP Morgan forum that they are already seeing “pretty compelling” data out of its new sports betting partnership so far.

ESPN brand push during March Madness

Pitaro is not concerned about Penn’s lack of conversions with its previous Barstool Sports partnership. One of the main upsides of the Barstool agreement was the 66 million fans of the brand, which Penn said would lower its cost per acquisition significantly compared to the going market rates.

That did not happen. Snowden said Penn only added 1.5 million Stoolies to its database in nearly three years of operations.

“Look, we have an advantage in terms of the brand,” Pitaro said. “The ESPN brand is compelling. But it’s beyond the brand. It’s also the megaphone that we provide.

“What you’re seeing especially this week as we head into March Madness, you’re seeing promotion for ESPN Bet across our linear properties, across digital, the social team, we have a dedicated social media team at ESPN, they’ve made this a priority. And created dedicated handles. And it’s all going great.”

Refresher on what not to say coming soon to ESPN?

ESPN’s Rece Davis made a joke Sunday that could trigger a refresher for the network’s personalities on what not to say during an ESPN Bet promo.

Davis suggested Erin Dolan sounded so confident in her pitch for a Northwestern under bet that she sold it more like a “risk-free investment.” Terms like risk-free are no longer used after regulations in Ohio forced operators to change their national campaigns.

Davis took to Twitter later Sunday afternoon to address the comments.

US Congressman Paul Tonko (D-NY) wants to see sports betting promotions and ads regulated at the federal level to prevent similar language.

Record engagement in Tournament Challenge

ESPN has two solid cross-selling events that should drive March Madness betting.

The Men’s Tournament Challenge saw 22.6 million completed brackets, a new record and 13% growth compared to last year.

ESPN is also the exclusive home to the women’s tournament, which should draw extra eyes this year thanks to Iowa’s record-setting Caitlin Clark.

MGM cleared for UK sports betting ad

The Advertising Standards Authority decided a BetMGM ad using Chris Rock as a spokesperson is “not of strong appeal to children or young persons.”

The report gives a detailed look into Rock’s work. While he voiced characters in the kid-oriented Madagascar film series, the ASA noted the most recent of those movies came out in 2014.

Rock has had two voice roles in newer children’s movies, including the Paw Patrol movie. The ASA said neither should lead a majority of children to recognize his voice and associate it with BetMGM.

PENN adds another board member

Penn Entertainment expanded its board to 10 seats and appointed Anuj Dhanda to the seat.

Dhanda is the executive VP and chief technology and transformation officer for the Albertsons grocery store chain. He was responsible for the successful mergers of tech platforms when Albertsons bought the Safeway chain for $9 billion.

Dhanda is also “focused on the acceleration of the business through the use of AI.”

BlueBet signs first B2B partner

Australia-listed BlueBet announced its first B2B sports betting agreement with Mid-Ohio, a motorsports facility located in north central Ohio.

The language hedges the announcement a bit, though, as Mid-Ohio and BlueBet agreed to “pursue the launching of an online sportsbook.” A BlueBet spokesperson did not respond to LSR requests for clarification.

The deal is for five years with an annual minimum that will shift to revenue sharing once revenue hits a certain level.

BlueBet is live in the US B2C market as well with its ClutchBet brand in Colorado, Iowa, and Louisiana.

INSE launches NFL Alumni virtual in PA

Inspired‘s End Zone Cash, which uses NFL Alumni players in the four-minute virtual sports game, is available in 10,000 Pennsylvania Lottery retailers.

Inspired CEO Brooks Pierce recently said 2024 is a “put up or shut up year” in terms of virtual sports in the US.

The company is launching an NFL virtual game using current players with BetMGM and BetRivers later this year.

On Thursday, Fitch reaffirmed Inspired’s long-term issue default rating at B and its senior secured instrument rating at BB-. Fitch cited the company’s virtual and interactive segments in the affirmation as they are “highly profitable and have higher structural growth, which should contribute positively to group profitability.”

DB raises SRAD target

Steven Pizzella of Deutsche Bank upped his price target on buy-rated Sportradar to $13.

This follows a fourth quarter earnings report that beat consensus revenue and adjusted EBITDA projections.

DraftKings expands problem gambling program

DraftKings will now offer bettors access to therapy and treatment for problem gambling in all of its online sports betting and iGaming markets beginning April 1.

The two partnered last September for a pilot program that delivered personalized support to Colorado sports bettors.

IGT sports betting CEO stepping down

Enrico Drago, the CEO of IGT PlayDigital, is stepping down as part of his move to become a director.

He is filling the spot of Marco Drago, who will carry out his term ending in May.

Gil Rotem is the IGT PlayDigital president of iGaming and will expand his role to cover sports betting as well. He will report directly to IGT CEO Vince Sadusky.

Marriott points available through sports betting

A Marriott Bonvoy member can now link their account to their BetMGM account as part of the larger partnership between Marriott and MGM.

Up to 100,000 BetMGM Rewards points can be exchanged annually for Marriott Bonvoy points.