Top Exec: ‘No Hesitation’ On ESPN Betting, But Where Is It?

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ESPN betting

ESPN president of programming Burke Magnus said Monday at a conference the network has “no hesitation” on entering the sports betting space. 

Yet, four years after the fall of PASPA, ESPN’s exact sports betting plans remain unclear. 

“Obviously, being part of Disney, we have different considerations relative to our activities in the space,” Magnus said during a panel Monday at the Financial Times Business of Sport US Summit in Manhattan. “But we’ve done research that has suggested that fans really see it as necessary for us to — and our responsibility to — be providing that kind of information and experience for that. 

“We haven’t exactly determined how that’s going to manifest itself to this point, but it unquestionably is coming.” 

ESPN still needs to be careful on betting

Magnus was asked a follow-up: is there some hesitation on sports betting given that Disney is a family brand? 

“No,” Magnus replied. “(Disney CEO) Bob Chapek has talked bout it on earnings calls in the past. There’s no hesitation. It just requires a little bit more of a filter in terms of our decision-making process that, in haste, we don’t make a mistake, because I think we would be judged differently than others.” 

Chapek, who has created confusion about ESPN’s sports betting future with conflicting comments, told CNBC recently that ESPN is seeking a sports betting partner. 

“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.”

So what’s up with ESPN and DraftKings?

Bloomberg reported in early October that ESPN was set to enter into an exclusive, “large new partnership” with DraftKings Sportsbook. Yet neither side has said anything to confirm or deny that report.

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

“As with many things, the reporting on it is in advance of finalization and reality,” Magnus told LSR when asked about the status of the reported deal. “We know we’re going to have a meaningful presence in the space at some point in time. There really is an expectation that fans have. 

“We just want to be thoughtful about it. We want to make sure that everything is tight when we get around to how it’s going to show up on-screen, in products, and what our actual involvement and participation is going to look like.”  

DraftKings remains mum

A DraftKings spokesperson told LSR at the time of the Bloomberg report: 

“We have a great, long standing relationship with ESPN. However, we speak to a variety of companies on a regular basis and don’t comment on the specifics of those conversations.”

DraftKings CEO Jason Robins was mostly quiet when asked bout it during the G2E Conference in Las Vegas. 

“We have our existing partnership already, and there’s nothing else to really talk about at this point,” Robins said. 

DraftKings is set to release its Q3 2022 earnings results Nov. 4, which provides another potential opportunity for Robins to publicly address shareholders in more detail. 

How would ESPN betting partnership work?

Will there eventually be sports betting on ESPN’s app?

Or will ESPN have betting links that would go to a regulated sportsbook? 

“Those are sort of the foundational elements of those kinds of decisions, and exactly what we’re trying to pin down right now,” Magnus said. “I couldn’t tell you exactly how it’s going to manifest itself, but it’s essential that we’re there. We’re obviously not a sportsbook, so we’re going to have to have partnerships in the category. And then, to me, it’s just what’s the product execution that we have, and that’s to be determined.” 

Speculation: TV rights significant for deal

There has been at least some industry buzz that DraftKings’ goal, as sports betting expands in the US, is ultimately to be part of negotiations for upcoming TV rights deals. ESPN’s NBA deal, for example, is up after the 2024-25 season. The NBA is reportedly seeking $75 billion in the upcoming media rights contract, according to CNBC.

By that point, it is plausible that a live game broadcast could be complemented by an in-game betting interface on a single screen, similar to what PointsBet has experimented with during its BetCast broadcasts on regional sports networks. It is unclear at the moment how those TV rights and regulations would shake out. 

How Magnus sees it

“Our primary concern with rights deal is sort of two-fold,” Magnus said. “One is we reserve the rights to kind of do those things on our own, that we also protect the exclusivity that we’re paying for from others doing the same thing. 

“That ends up becoming, a little bit of a friction in those conversations. But I think when we are active it will greatly simplify that, or clarify that, conversation with rights-holders because we’ll have our thing. But that’s really what it comes down to. 

“And the exclusivity point is really important — even if we were not doing something on our own, we can’t where licenses have gone, we can’t really have live video be readily accessible in a similar quality experience. Otherwise, we’re talking about a non-exclusive deal. So that’s all getting sorted out in this area, which frankly has a long way to go in the US before it’s totally resolved.”