The ESPN Sports Betting Vision: theScore Bet, but Make it America

ESPN BET is less than a week away from launching in the U.S., but the user experience will draw on lessons learned north of the border.

Nov 9, 2023 • 20:14 ET • 4 min read
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If PENN Entertainment Inc. sounds confident they will succeed with an ESPN-themed online sportsbook, it’s partly because they’ve pulled off something similar before. 

PENN acquired a Canadian company called Score Media and Gaming Inc. (or theScore) for approximately $2 billion back in 2021. At the time, theScore was running an uber-popular sports media app and a not-quite-as-popular online sportsbook, which, at that point, couldn't take bets in its backyard of Toronto. 

Move ahead two years, and theScore media app and theScore Bet sportsbook are now working hand-in-hand in the Canadian province of Ontario, helping to funnel sports fans checking scores into a place where they can make mobile wagers. This, now, is the model for what PENN wants to do with its newest media and marketing partner: ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in Sports.

“So we acquired theScore October of [2021] and had to get ready to launch online sports betting in April of 2022,” PENN CEO Jay Snowden said Thursday. “The vision to do this in Ontario, very similar to what we want to do in the U.S. with ESPN BET.”

Blame Canada

Snowden was speaking at the third annual ESPN Edge Conference in New York, seated next to Mike Morrison, vice president of sports betting and fantasy for ESPN. The two were there to discuss ESPN BET, the online sports betting partnership between the casino and gaming operator PENN and the sports media giant ESPN. 

ESPN BET (the tagline for which is apparently "WHAT A PLAY") is less than a week away from launching in the U.S., and the vision Snowden presented for that launch was reminiscent of theScore and theScore Bet. Users of the ESPN media app, for example, or its popular fantasy app, will soon find themselves presented with shortcuts to placing wagers with ESPN BET.

“So picture that you're on theScore or ESPN’s app, you're checking the stories Sunday morning before the game kicks off at one o'clock,” Snowden said. “And you see what the moneyline is, you see what the point spread [is], the over-under, and that you can actually put together your bet slip for sports betting while you're in the media app. Seamless, fill out your bet slip. The only thing that would happen when you're ready to place that bet, as you hit ‘place bet,’ we seamlessly move you over to what is in Ontario called theScore Bet and here in the U.S. will be called ESPN BET.”

It’s this sort of experience ESPN and PENN are hoping will upend the status quo of U.S. legal sports betting, which is dominated by the likes of DraftKings and FanDuel. 

“It doesn't exist anywhere other than theScore and theScore Bet in North America,” Snowden said. “And starting next week, on Tuesday, it'll be live in the U.S. as well with ESPN BET and ESPN.”

In it to win it

The money involved alone is enough to suggest how serious PENN and ESPN are taking their foray into the world of wagering. Wyomissing, Pa.-based PENN is plowing a huge chunk of cash and stock into the 10-year, $2-billion betting partnership with ESPN, and it is abandoning its Barstool Sportsbook brand to do so. 

“We're in this space to win,” Snowden said Thursday. “And when I say we, that's PENN, that's ESPN.”

ESPN BET is scheduled to debut in 17 states on Nov. 14, pending any final approvals still required. The new online sportsbook received one such nod from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission earlier this week, but PENN management has said no other regulator has voiced concern. 

“We're moving incredibly fast,” Morrison said. “The to-do list, at least for the launch, is pretty much done.”

PENN will operate ESPN BET and ESPN will market the online sportsbook across its digital and television empire. For instance, ESPN will use official odds provided by ESPN BET all over its content universe. Certain ESPN BET personalities will help tout the app as well, and ESPN’s Daily Wager show is rebranding to ESPN BET Live as of Friday.

“You'll begin to see a deeper lean-in editorially to betting in particular,” Morrison said.

Users of the ESPN app will also notice ESPN BET-branded “six-pack” odds, or the spreads, totals, and moneylines of games, in that media app. Those will help fuel the "seamless" experience that ESPN and PENN want to cultivate. 

The model is working for PENN in Ontario, at least according to PENN, which says more than 70% of its total handle in Canada's most populous province comes from its "media ecosystem" users. PENN also reported 54% growth in its third-quarter sports betting revenue in Ontario over the previous year, as well as 21% more monthly active users.

“Our integrated media strategy with theScore and theScore Bet in Ontario is providing a blueprint for success that we intend to replicate in the U.S. with ESPN BET,” PENN said in its third-quarter investor presentation

But the strategy for ESPN BET also mimics, to a certain extent, what PENN used to be doing with Barstool.

The sports media personalities at Barstool would promote the sportsbook app and bets they liked, which will now happen with Scott Van Pelt and other ESPN personalities. Snowden noted the landing page for the betting app will have picks and parlays of the day from the likes of SVP and others.

“We're going to have a number of these deep integrations live day one when we launch next week,” Snowden said. “And a whole bunch more are going to be deeply integrated and launched over the coming weeks and months.”

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