ESPN will be set free from cable packages, but it won’t abandon its new role as the promoter of an online sportsbook using its name.
Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger announced Wednesday that the ESPN parent company will start offering the network as a standalone streaming option in the fall of 2025.
Embedded in the service will be ties to the recently launched online sports betting site that shares a name with the worldwide leader in sports, ESPN BET.
The new bookmaker is the product of the network’s 10-year, $1.5-billion partnership with gaming operator PENN Entertainment Inc.
“Not only will consumers be able to stream their favorite live games and studio programming, they’ll also have access to engaging digital integrations like ESPN Bet and fantasy sports, e‐commerce features, and a deep array of sports stats, all of which we know will be incredibly compelling to younger sports fans in particular,” Iger said during Disney’s quarterly call for analysts and investors on Wednesday, according to a transcript. “It will also have very robust personalization features.”
What's in a name?
Wednesday’s news means another avenue for promoting ESPN BET is on the way, which is no small thing for a relatively new betting site that launched in November in 17 states.
A big part of the business plan for the bookmaker is that ESPN will help promote it across its vast sports-media empire, including by using its odds and embedding connections to ESPN BET on the ESPN app and website (a.k.a. "integrations").
ESPN BET and Fanatics Sportsbook are viewed as two real challengers to DraftKings and FanDuel atop the legal sports betting industry in the U.S. Fanatics is banking on its extensive experience selling sports merchandise to help with its gambling business, while ESPN BET has ESPN’s name and network behind it.
Ventures, joint and otherwise
Investment banking firm JMP Securities told clients on Monday that ESPN BET managed to attract around 9% of all wagering in the states it was operational in December. Promotions as a percentage of ESPN BET’s handle were 11%, which JMP said was in line with its expectations and projected to fall in subsequent months.
“Its ability to maintain market share within the expected promotional range should be viewed as positive for shares in the near term, in our view,” analyst Jordan Bender wrote. “The heavy investment spending will start to taper off in mid-2024 as it relies on its product offering to retain loyal players.”
The standalone ESPN package would also be separate from the joint sports streaming service announced on Tuesday by Disney, Fox Corp., and Warner Bros. Discovery Inc., which is scheduled to launch in the fall. The joint venture does not yet have an official name or price, but the new direct-to-consumer app will include ESPN+, TNT, and FS1, among other networks.
“ESPN has long prioritized its desire and ability to serve sports fans wherever they are, and these steps will strengthen ESPN’s ability to deliver on that promise,” Iger said on Wednesday. “And as you know, we’ve also engaged in productive conversations with potential content and marketing partners for ESPN. We’ve made progress toward securing deals, and we expect to have more to share with you in the near future.”