ESPN Bet Eyes Disney Consumers as Next Generation of Sports Bettors

The Walt Disney Company strengthened ties with ESPN last week by launching ESPN Bet sportsbook in 17 US states. Thanks to this direct relationship between companies, ESPN Bet will have access to hundreds of millions of potential consumers through Disney.

The cross-promotional benefits available within this family of brands offer ESPN Bet vast potential for establishing a long-term edge. The question, however, is whether or not ESPN and Disney will use this opportunity to enhance the industry and responsible gambling safeguards therein.

Disney Offers ESPN A Cross-Promotional Leg Up In Sports Betting

As the name behind PENN Entertainment’s rebranded ESPN Bet sportsbook, ESPN has quickly begun leveraging its media reputation to gain a competitive advantage over other more established sports betting platforms.

The sports entertainment giant has proven to have no issue using all facets of its brand to accomplish this.

Launching ESPN Bet created the ideal occasion to turn a struggling SportsNation brand, for example, into a treasure trove of sportsbook followers. Five days before ESPN Bet launched in the US, ESPN’s SportsNation accounts announced a shift in content:

“Soon, this account will focus on fantasy and sports betting content. We will still be fun & entertaining to enhance your fan experience while promoting responsible gaming habits. We hope you stick around!”

With ESPN’s Great Power Comes Great Responsibility For Disney

ESPN’s sports media prominence provides the perfect platform for marketing ESPN Bet. With the launch of this sportsbook, though, comes the onus of educating respective bettors on problem gambling risks and responsible gambling techniques.

Moreover, ESPN’s direct association with Disney, a company primarily focused on children’s entertainment, makes this ethical marketing need even more dire. After all, sports betting’s ability to attract a younger audience is what ultimately sold current Disney CEO Bob Iger on the venture.

Iger ultimately stated that observing his younger adult male sons use of sports betting apps is what turned him on to the idea of going all-in on sports betting.

Disney’s previous CEO Bob Chapek also touted sports betting’s importance for the brand during an earnings call last year, saying:
“Basically, our sports fans that are under 30 absolutely require this type of utility in the overall portfolio of what ESPN offers,” he said.

Problem Gambling Rates Rise Among US Children

Sports betting has gripped the nation recently with its fast-paced, thrilling nature. The frequent time-outs and commercial breaks of sporting events cater to short attention spans, attracting a younger audience than many other forms of gambling. And the expanding availability of online sportsbook apps has made sports betting more accessible.

Now that the nation’s biggest sports media giant has entered the space, sportsbook advertising has taken center stage in full view of sports fans of all ages. Without clear divides differentiating entertainment from gambling, though, young children are at particular risk of harm.

Gaming operators have already made these marketing tactics commonplace in video games, luring kids into purchasing loot boxes and other in-game extras. Moreover, studies suggest that children are at greater risk of harm than adults. Since children have yet to develop the quick assessment skills required in betting, they are especially susceptible to problems.

Disney Dives Into Unchartered Territory With US Gambling Industry

ESPN Bet’s connections with Disney parallels a similar situation across the pond. The UK sportsbook Sky Bet, was born out of sports media giant Sky Sports. Now, it is commonplace for Sky Sports’ broadcasts to feature commercials with the same broadcasters seen on the network.

But what happens when that same company is owned by the nation’s top children’s brand?

With varying regulations on responsible gambling in states nationwide, ESPN bears further obligation to promote sports betting in a responsible manner.

ESPN’s direct association with Disney, a company whose primary focus is children’s entertainment, makes the need for ethical marketing even more dire.

Disney Has Opportunity To Educate Kids About Responsible Gambling

Much like ESPN is responsible for protecting and educating its customers during this new venture into gambling, so too, is Disney. With the variety of names in the Disney family, ESPN has a potentially endless range of audiences available for cross-promotion.

After all, kids practically come out of the womb watching the Disney Channel, and ESPN is already synonymous with sports entertainment.So, why not also leverage the House of Mouse to begin educating children on the appropriate relationship between gambling and entertainment?

While responsible gambling advertising would certainly seem out of place for Disney, educating children about general moderation and risk management could be an appropriate start. From there, the company could begin integrating responsible play advertising into commercial breaks or writing applicable life lessons into a few of its countless children’s shows.

Disney’s latest project with Dapper Labs offers the perfect opportunity — and even further responsibility — to begin promoting responsible practices to customers. Disney Pinnacle promises collectors of all ages a new social type of collectible experience — yet another step forward in the company’s gambling explorations.

ESPN Partners With UNLV For RG Research, Announces Staff Betting Ban

So far, Disney appears to be taking all the right steps to reinforce its ESPN family’s brand integrity. In conjunction with ESPN Bet’s debut, ESPN announced a new responsible gambling research partnership with the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

ESPN has committed to contributing personnel, operations, and outreach to the project, along with roughly $200,000 in funds. According to the agreement, the goal is to develop a program that offers data and education on the appropriate relationship between sports betting and sports media.

The partnership has identified five ultimate goals for bolstering such relations:

  • Enhance responsible gaming
  • Develop evidence-based insight
  • Develop responsible marketing practices
  • Create responsible gaming program perimeters
  • Educate industry leaders

In an effort to safeguard the industry and curb coercion, ESPN has also announced betting restrictions for staff members, reporters, and broadcasters.

Whether this is simply an exercise in optics or whether ESPN Bet will prove to be a responsible, progress-forward sportsbook is still to be seen.

Only time will tell where Disney’s moral compass ultimately points in relation to gambling. For the sake of future generations, let’s hope it continues pointing in the responsible direction.

Alec Cunningham is a lead writer and analyst for Lineups.com. She has covered countless online sports betting and casino legislation topics and now specializes in responsible gambling and gambling addiction recovery. In 2022, she served as a panelist at the All-American Sports Betting Summit, discussing the ever-evolving role of women in the gambling industry. As a college athlete, Alec Cunningham played Division II golf at Tusculum University. She graduated in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Professional Writing. After working in the music industry as a concert promoter, tour manager and artist developer, she returned to her love of written word in 2020. Since then, Cunningham's love of sports has led her to become a responsible gambling advocate.

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