Disney has been loudly kicking the tires on sports betting for months now. But some observers have questioned whether the family-first brand could ever truly embrace a ‘sin’ industry.
Disney, it seems, had similar reservations and did some research on the matter.
Unsurprisingly, their research told them they should try and tap the multi-billion dollar revenue stream.
Good for the ESPN brand?
As a result, Disney is “pursuing aggressively” the US sports betting opportunity and its “not insignificant revenue implications”.
“We had some concerns as a company about our ability to get into [sports betting] without having a brand withdrawal,” CEO Bob Chapek said at Disney’s Q3 results last week. “But given all the research we’ve done recently, that is not the case. It actually strengthens the brand of ESPN when you have a betting component, and it has no impact on the Disney brand.”
Chapek said ESPN was the “perfect platform” for that plan.
How does ESPN get into sports betting?
As Chapek said previously, Disney wants a third-party partner to help with its sports betting efforts.
That could just be a sportsbook operator licensing out the ESPN name. It also could be a much tighter relationship via M&A.
“It is not something that we would necessarily do solo in the gambling area,” Chapek said in September.
Who will partner for ESPN Sportsbook?
ESPN has been linked with Rush Street Interactive (RSI) as a potential betting partner by gaming analyst firm Eilers & Krejcik. Eilers said in a recent note:
“There’s logic to a [deal between the two]. BetRivers has struggled to make a dent in markets where it doesn’t have a big retail casino gaming presence and ESPNBet would surely change that.”
However, a partnership between those two would still be missing the all-important sportsbook technology piece. BetRivers currently relies on Kambi for its sportsbook engine.
Chapek did not give specifics on partners this week but said recently that ESPN was “starting to take some pretty big steps along that way.”
Mickey Mouse betting operation?
One potential option is spinning out ESPN as a separate company, merging with a sportsbook operator and/or tech provider, then listing it.
Research firm LightShed Partners has argued for that route:
“That would help change the narrative of ESPN from subscriber losses, viewership declines and advertising headwinds to new market launches and expanding the TAM of sports bettors,” LightShed wrote in a recent research piece.