A new big name in betting
ESPN BET, the sports betting site wearing the name of the US’s dominant sports media brand, has gone live in 17 states. Long thought to be an impossibility because ESPN is owned by family-oriented Disney, ESPN BET’s launch on Tuesday marks the official marriage between the sports network and wagering, even though odds and betting talk has been present on ESPN platforms for years.
The ESPN BET name had already made its presence felt before Tuesday, as ESPN’s Daily Wager program rebranded to ESPN BET Live on November 10.
ESPN BET was born out of a partnership between ESPN and PENN Entertainment in August. Though the network had partnered with multiple sports betting and daily fantasy sports companies before, this is the first betting offering of its own. PENN paid ESPN $1.5 billion to license its brand plus another $500 million in warrants to purchase PENN Entertainment stock. PENN provides the technology and will operate the sportsbook, ESPN provides the name.
Money aside, it shouldn’t be too complicated for PENN Entertainment, as it is really just a rebrand of its former Barstool Sportsbook. In the meantime, PENN has cut ties with Barstool after its relationship just did not work. Barstool had become a massive sports media company, much smaller than ESPN, but with a strong niche in the “bro culture” arena.
PENN bought 36% of Barstool in 2020 for $163 million with the option eventually acquire everything; it did so in August of last year.
The pairing never cut into FanDuel’s and DraftKings’ (and to a lesser extent, BetMGM’s) market dominance and though PENN had lost tons of money in the process, it decided to just cut bait and start fresh. It sold Barstool back to founder Dave Portnoy for a single dollar and paid a king’s bounty to ESPN to try again.
ESPN employees need to be careful
In the meantime, on Monday, ESPN issued a strict set of rules to its employees regarding what is and is not permitted in regard to sports betting. Though ESPN BET was not specifically named, the timing of the notification is likely not coincidental.
Nothing should come as too much of a surprise. ESPN employees are not allowed to disclose confidential or non-public information that they have access to because of their job, place bets on sporting events they are covering, place bets on leagues or sports they regularly cover, and they are definitely not permitted to gamble illegally.
Generally, ESPN reporters are warned to not do anything that could affect betting lines, especially intentionally.