Disney CEO Continues To Create Confusion About ESPN’s Sports Betting Plans

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Disney ESPN Sports Betting

Disney CEO Bob Chapek continues talking in circles about ESPN’s sports betting plans, confusing everyone in the process. 

Will that finally change? On Thursday, Chapek told CNBC that ESPN is seeking a sports betting partner. Chapek spoke on “Squawk on the Street” about providing “frictionless sports betting” to fans:

“We at ESPN have the ability to do that,” Chapek said. “Now we’re going to need a partner to do that, because we’re never going to be a book, that’s never going to be in the cards for the Walt Disney Company. But at the same time, to be able to partner with a well-respected third party can do that for us.”

Chapek’s previous comments were unclear

Chapek made comments over the weekend at the D23 expo, when it sounded as though ESPN might be working on its own sports betting app.

Granted, an ESPN partnership with an existing sports betting operator sounds significantly more logical and feasible. Regardless, the vague nature of Chapek’s continued comments on the subject are not painting a picture of a clear vision, even four years after sports betting started expanding in the US. How a third-party provider provides a “frictionless” sports betting experience via ESPN is not at all clear.

While not providing a lot of concrete plans, Chapek’s comments are good at creating buzz around ESPN’s potential in the space.

ESPN currently has agreements with DraftKings Sportsbook and Caesars Sportsbook, as well as significant sports betting content on its media platforms. 

Pitaro suggested removing ‘friction’ from betting

ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro, though, indicated earlier this year to The Athletic that the company “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,” Pitaro said then.  

That sounded as though Pitaro was hopeful of ESPN taking bets on its own platform as opposed to elsewhere. 

Could ESPN’s branding strengthen a current sportsbook? Perhaps we’ll find out soon enough. That is, if Disney and ESPN can finally get their confusing sports betting plans sorted out and provide some coherent messaging on the topic. 

Big interest in ESPN following shareholder letter

Activist Disney 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 backed off that stance after Disney’s CFO and others poured cold water on the idea of a spinoff.