ESPN still plans to become more involved with sports betting despite its relative inaction so far, according to ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro.
Pitaro appeared on The Athletic’s Sports Media podcast this week, where he said sports betting had become a “must-have” for ESPN.
Pitaro reiterated Disney’s own consumer research that said the company should get into betting.
“On the ESPN brand, it’s not just OK, it’s important,” Pitaro said. “It’s something we need to be doing. It’s something that our fans are expecting from us.
“So it’s not a ‘nice to have.’ It’s pretty much a ‘must-have.’”
Next steps for ESPN
So what does more sports betting at ESPN look like?
“We need to be serving the sports fan with what they’re expecting, and taking the friction out of the process,” Pitaro said.
That hints at a world where ESPN is accepting bets on its own site rather than sending customers elsewhere.
Dance partners for ESPN
ESPN has been linked at various times with a litany of sportsbook partners, including DraftKings, BetRivers and PointsBet. Disney already owns a 6% stake in DraftKings.
Bet365 is another intriguing partner, given the quality of its product and relative lack of brand awareness in the US.
“That’s the only one that makes sense to me,” former FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles told LSR earlier this year. “They would need to figure out market access but I suspect that gets easier as a lot of the tier-two operators start to bail sooner or later.”
Slow and steady …
So what are the next steps for the Disney-owned brand?
“I can’t tell you,” Pitaro said. “I will tell you that we have opportunities to partner with different folks and be a bit more aggressive in the space. But we’re just not there yet. We are being very thoughtful here. We have to get this right”.
The company has indeed been cautious, so much so that some industry experts believe it missed the sports betting boat.
However, the recent re-rate in US sports betting stocks might have given ESPN a second window of opportunity. If nothing else, it can now partner with – or buy – a sportsbook on more favorable terms.
With the likes of Susquehanna now investing in the industry at depressed valuations, ESPN could make a similar leap sooner rather than later.