The Walt Disney Company has significant plans for the ESPN brand, which include a sports betting arm in the works.
That is according to DIS CEO Bob Chapek, who spoke at the D23 fan expo over the weekend.
“We’re working very hard on that,” Chapek said in response to a question about developing a sports betting app, according to Bloomberg.
Whether the sports giant wants to go it alone, however, is another question.
Is ESPN trying to launch sports betting alone?
Chapek’s response makes it sound like Disney is interested in building an ESPN sports betting app from the ground up. That has not been the message so far, though.
It sounded like Disney was more interested in working with an already established sportsbook partner when Chapek spoke on Disney’s third-quarter conference call:
“We’re working hard on it, and we hope to have something to announce in the future in terms of a partnership there that will allow us to access that revenue stream and also make sure that our guests are being – having their needs met.”
An ESPN spokesperson said Monday there is no update on its sports betting plans. Disney did not reply to LSR’s questions.
ESPN president wants frictionless sports betting
Whether ESPN builds its own sportsbook platform or partners with someone to provide a platform, it sounds like betting could come from within the ESPN app.
ESPN already has partnerships with Caesars and DraftKings signed in September 2020 to link-out to both sportsbooks. ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro suggested that is not enough on The Athletic‘s Sports Media podcast in June:
“We think we can potentially be doing more. We need to be serving the sports fan with what they’re expecting, and taking the friction out of the process.”
Removing the friction, in this case, would be keeping users in one place like the ESPN app. The company could also go with theScore Bet‘s model that allowed users of theScore Media app to make betting selections and open them with the sportsbook app, though that still has a level of friction with switching apps.
Big interest in ESPN following shareholder letter
Activist DIS investor Dan Loeb called for ESPN to be spun off in August. That led to “no less than 100 inquiries” from hopeful buyers, Chapek told Variety.
“What does that tell you? That says we’ve got something really good. And if you have a strategic plan, a vision for where it fits into the company over the next 100 years, then you don’t exactly want to divest yourself of it. And we have that plan. We’ve not shared that plan.”
Loeb took to Twitter Sunday morning saying he changed his tune about spinning off Disney:
“We have a better understanding of @espn‘s potential as a standalone business and another vertical for SDIS to reach a global audience to generate ad and subscriber revenues. We look forward to seeing Mr. Pitaro execute on the growth and innovation plans, generating considerable synergies as part of The Walt Disney company.”