Disney projects that its sportsbook, ESPN Bet, a partnership with PENN Entertainment, will gain as much as 20% share of the online sports betting market by 2027.
Disney made its foray into online sports betting late last year under its ESPN brand. ESPN Bet immediately became a serious threat to market leaders DraftKings and Fan Duel.
That threat became even more significant with Disney’s announcements this week. They detailed groundbreaking streaming partnerships for its flagship sports brand and digital integrations for ESPN Bet.
ESPN Bet will be among the sportsbooks to go live when online sports betting in North Carolina launches on March 11.
Disney’s advantages over DraftKings and FanDuel
Top dogs DraftKings and FanDuel dominate 73% of the market. However, up-and-comers like ESPN Bet NC are entering deals that could earn them customers at a fast pace.
Both DraftKings NC and FanDuel NC have an extensive slate of content integrations that enable them to provide game updates and analysis. Their features span from celebrity sports talent via streaming within their apps and outlets like Sling, Samsung TV and some cable providers. As the online sports betting market matures, “consumers [will look] for more interactive experiences and deepening engagement with favorite apps,” according to DraftKings in its November 2023 Investor Day report.
However, the top two operators do not have ESPN’s reach when connecting with sports fans via digital and traditional broadcasting. ESPN+, the company’s streaming service, reached an all-time high of 26 million subscribers in 2023. ESPN Bet had 1.1. million downloads within a week of its debut in mid-November 2023. This came via heavy promo spending by the new brand.
In addition, on Feb. 7, Disney CEO Bob Iger outlined plans to extend the reach of ESPN and specifically mentioned ESPN Bet.
“Another exciting option available to sports fans will come in the fall of 2025, when we make the full suite of ESPN’s channels available as a stand‐alone and highly interactive digital destination. 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. It will also have very robust personalization features.”
ESPN also announced this week the launch of a new streaming sports service. They plan to partner with Fox and Warner Bros Discovery in the fall of 2024. Warner Brothers Discovery owns the exclusive rights to Men’s March Madness. Fox has premier media rights to Big Ten men’s basketball and football.
Putting all of these sports content pieces together will give ESPN sports content and sports betting integration across the vast majority of collegiate sports.
How is Disney promoting responsible gaming among college students?
One thing missing from recent announcements about sports media and sports betting integration was how the company plans to protect people not old enough to gamble. The college basketball scoreboards on ESPN.com list game odds alongside game times. A generic responsible gaming notice is in small print in the footer of scoreboard pages.
The NCAA has recently taken up responsible gaming initiatives, including efforts to decrease sports-betting-related harassment of student-athletes and its strong stance to opposing prop bets on college games. It remains to be seen whether ESPN will step up its efforts to address the issues of illegal betting, harassment from fans and gambling addiction among college students and minors.
What’s next for ESPN Bet in North Carolina?
When online sports betting debuts in North Carolina on March 11, ESPN Bet will have a unique advantage. ESPN owns broadcast rights for the ACC basketball tournaments, the men’s NIT, the entire NCAA women’s March Madness tournament, and a new secondary NCAA women’s tournament, the WBIT. Launching in time for postseason basketball tournaments, ESPN Bet has a leg up.
Furthermore, ESPN has exclusive or partnership broadcast rights for almost every other NCAA Division I league basketball tournament. Those rights include schools from NC except for the Coastal Athletic Association.
For North Carolina bettors, the ESPN app will be a one-stop shop during March Madness.
Image Credit: Invision / AP Images