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One would only have to research material on the web available a year or so ago to read lobbying efforts by the Walt Disney Company and their flagship sports network ESPN against legalized sports wagering. As part of their very protective efforts, Disney had made sure that all content that has been produced is as a kid and family-oriented as possible.
Therefore, it is certainly both curious and stunning to read new headlines and see current increased programming on ESPN dedicated to supporting the growth of sports wagering as its landscape rapidly increases throughout the US.
At its annual investor day conference last week, Disney highlighted ESPN’s recent partnership with Caesars Entertainment that integrates ESPN’s sports coverage into Caesars’ sports betting platform, and it said that it would be doubling down on that effort for its ESPN+ platform to create a hub for fantasy sports and other sports betting to broaden the channel’s appeal.
Citing its commitment, the company said that it had added 11.5 million ESPN+ subscribers and the streaming platform will be the new home of the college league NCAA Southeastern Conference starting in 2024. ESPN+ will also launch a morning recap show and an exclusive show with well-known commentator Stephen Smith.
Overall, the goal is to use sports betting to strengthen the company’s ESPN+ streaming service. Sports betting integration being a foundation tool to bring in a younger audience.
Previously Disney has been quite hesitant to embrace sports betting, but now with a US legalization foothold and revenue result proof, feel that legal sports betting and fantasy sports are a strong business plan enrooted to improve the ESPN+ service.
During the investors meeting the success of Disney+ and Hulu streaming services highlighted most of the conversation and focus. However, Disney surely incorporated their confidence and plan to further develop content involving sports wagering.
Currently, the ESPN+ app with 11.5 million subscribers was substantially behind Hulu’s 38.8 million and 86.8 million for Disney+.
In the past, a very contrasting viewpoint was offered by Bob Iger, CEO of the Walt Disney Company when commenting:
I do not see The Walt Disney Company, certainly in the near term getting involved in the business of gambling. In effect, facilitating gambling in any way. Getting into the business of gambling, I rather doubt it.
Perspective may have significantly changed in September when Disney’s ESPN division partnered with large casino corporations William Hill and Caesars Entertainment in a direct agreement to provide wagering content for the network. It was a successful venture that was highlighted for Disney investors at last week’s meeting.
Mike Morrison, Vice President of Business Development and Innovation, ESPN offered this perspective:
With Caesars utilizing odds from William Hill’s sports betting data, we are able to deliver content in new and innovative ways. Our multi-dimensional relationship is a testament to the growth and opportunity in the sports betting space.
ESPN liberally displays odds and lines for almost every sporting event available to sportsbooks. As games are being discussed on ESPN shows including their flagship ‘SportsCenter,’ the odds are visible on the screen. Host Scott Van Pelt includes weekly segments like Bad Beats and Winner$, discussing the week’s most disappointing wagering defeats for bettors along with his favorite betting selections for the upcoming football weekend.
The network also has current deals with Caesar’s and DraftKings Sportsbook, which also plans to expand sports betting content. ESPN includes ‘The Daily Wager,’ within its line-up, a nightly show providing viewers the day’s best bets. A program that will likely expand to more betting content along with this new directional move.
Now according to CEO Iger, Disney is eager to make a larger and full commitment to sports betting, however, ESPN’s parent company must make a philosophical decision. Are they still a fully family-friendly oriented corporation, allowed to “bend the rules slightly” for business reason and to satisfy consumer demand?
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Larry Gibbs is both a seasoned journalist and a respected online gaming industry consultant. His wry commentary & sharp analysis have appeared in numerous top gaming and sports wagering publications. He has also served as Vice President of US Gaming Services, a marketing research organization with 15 years of experience in US online wagering. He has spoken at noted gaming industry conferences including G2E, GiGSE, and NCLGS.
Email: [email protected]
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