ESPN Bet made its debut in 17 states this week, flooding ESPN broadcasts with sportsbook advertising and new user promotions.
ESPN’s parent brand, The Walt Disney Company, has traditionally fought gambling expansion, prohibiting casinos on its cruise ships and contesting Florida wagering. But as America’s acceptance of sports betting has evolved, so too has Disney’s view on the matter.
Eventually, Disney decided that ESPN’s reputation as a sports media giant offered too much potential success to overlook. To understand why Disney ultimately stepped up to bat for sports betting, let’s look at the history of the two brands and the circumstances leading up to ESPN Bet’s launch.
Disney Changes View On Sports Betting With ESPN Bet Launch
Known for its knack in introducing characters and trends into society, Disney has made substantial strides in brand acquisition this past century. After purchasing ESPN back in 1995, Disney went on to obtain everything from Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel to ABC and National Geographic. Viewers can check off all their Disney, ESPN, and Hulu streaming needs with a Disney Bundle subscription.
Come Aug. 2023, Disney further intertwined its name with the EPSN brand by setting ESPN Bet into forward motion. When PENN Entertainment ended its partnership with Barstool Sports earlier this year, ESPN inked a deal allowing PENN to use ESPN’s name and branding in exchange for $1.5 billion over the course of 10 years.
Although the ESPN name is featured on all branding, the bookmaking — aka the gambling side of the business — is left up to PENN to handle.
Earlier this year, Disney CEO Bob Iger reflected on how he “was probably on the more conservative side about [gambling] for a long time.” His perception likely began shifting as he saw the industry’s billion-dollar potential. As long as Disney wasn’t playing bookie, Iger conceded that being associated with sports betting wasn’t the morally deplorable venture he had originally considered it to be.
Still, Iger is adamant that ESPN Bet will inevitably attract a younger audience.
ESPN’s Entry into the World of Sports Betting
This entry into the sports betting industry isn’t an entirely new foray for the company. If we look back at the brand’s history, sports betting has been a part of the ESPN experience for more than four years now.
ESPN successfully introduced sports betting to its market in 2019, debuting its popular sports betting show The Daily Wager. After establishing it as a natural part of branding, ESPN had nothing left to do but answer a growing demand from viewers to delve into the world of sports betting.
Additionally, ESPN has had no issue marketing sportsbooks to its viewers over the years. DraftKings and FanDuel both utilize ESPN to advertise during games and live broadcasts.
Streaming Woes A Factor In Disney’s Changed Betting Perspective
ESPN+, which launched in 2018, was the company’s first venture away from cable TV and into streaming. Without pro sports like the NBA and NFL available, though, the platform has consistently struggled to maintain subscribers. The platform currently offers limited MLB, NHL, and NCAA events. Fans must turn to ESPN TV for other sports until Disney debuts an entirely direct-to-consumer version of ESPN, which is set to launch in 2025.
The decrease in cable subscribers over the past few years coupled with the growing valuations of streaming platforms has disproportionately affected ESPN. This is reflected in their earnings which have dropped 29 percent over the first six months of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022, according to the New York Times.
Many speculate the timing of the launch is related to pressures from Disney investors surrounding the financial future of ESPN.
Now, ESPN looks to offer fans the full experience by embracing the ever-intertwining worlds of sports and betting.