ESPN President: No Sports Betting Deal Imminent

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ESPN sports betting

An ESPN sports betting partnership deal is not close at this time, its president said Wednesday. 

“I do not anticipate any deal is imminent,” Jimmy Pitaro said at the Sports Business Journal Media Innovators conference in New York. “No, I do not.” 

Pitaro said he will need to meet with returning CEO Bob Iger, who has come back to his post following the stunning departure of Bob Chapek, to discuss future sports betting plans for the company. 

“Bob’s ultimately going to have to dig in with me,” Pitaro said, later adding, “We believe that there is upside for the ESPN business. We believe that there’s upside for the ESPN brand. Again, and Bob and I will do this, we have to consider things from a Disney perspective as well.”

Was DraftKings deal report premature?

Bloomberg reported in October that ESPN was set to enter into an exclusive, “large new partnership” with DraftKings Sportsbook. ESPN currently has link-out deals with DraftKings and Caesars Sportsbook.  

“Yes, we’ve been exploring (a deal,)” Pitaro said, while not mentioning DraftKings specifically. “We’ve had conversations with all the usual suspects, looking at what could be a logical next step for us.” 

What that logical next step is for ESPN, four years after the fall of PASPA, remains unclear. 

“We’ve done research, and our fans like what we’re doing,” Pitaro said of ESPN’s current sports betting content. “They also would like more from ESPN. It’s a very attractive audience, a higher net-worth audience. These are folks that spend a lot of time with sports consuming games especially on ESPN. So if you look at the research, it tells us we can be doing more here.”

Did ESPN miss on sports betting?

Eilers & Krejcik Gaming said in its latest newsletter that ESPN apparently wants $300 million a year for a sports betting deal. Previously, a Wall Street Journal report said ESPN wanted $3 billion total over multiple years. Those massive figures could be difficult to obtain, with several operators looking to cut marketing spend. 

ESPN’s wavering has left industry insiders to wonder whether they’ve missed the party on sports betting entirely. Perhaps a change from Chapek, who was confusing in his sports betting comments, to Iger will turn things around. 

“I’ve said this repeatedly — we are not going to create a sportsbook. We’re not going to take people’s money and set lines and spreads and odds. It’s not what we do,” Pitaro said. “But the idea of leaning a bit more here and creating a more seamless experience is something that’s definitely on the table.”

Pitaro declined further comment before heading to his first board meeting with Iger back at the helm.