ESPN Bet becomes the second online sportsbook to partner with a pro sports entity in North Carolina. On Tuesday, PENN Entertainment, the parent company of ESPN Bet, signed a deal with Quail Hollow Club, making ESPN Bet the golf club’s official sports betting sponsor and the official sports betting sponsor of the PGA Tour’s Wells Fargo Open.
As the press release indicates “PENN Sports Interactive, LLC has entered into a long-term, multi-faceted partnership with Quail Hollow Club and the Wells Fargo Championship ahead of the launch of regulated online sports wagering in North Carolina.”
ESPN Bet follows Bet365 who partnered with the Charlotte Hornets two weeks ago. Both operators can now begin the application process that concludes on Dec. 27, 2023.
While the North Carolina Lottery Commission has given no launch date, regulators clarified that North Carolina sports betting would not start before the 2024 Super Bowl on Feb. 11.
ESPN and PENN bank on strong golf ties
Quail Hollow Club, which opened in 1959 and sits just outside Charlotte, has hosted the Wells Fargo Championship since 2003.
“We welcome the upcoming launch of regulated online sports wagering in North Carolina and are extremely pleased to partner with a leading gaming and entertainment operator in PENN Entertainment,” said Johnny Harris, President, Quail Hollow Club. “PENN’s compelling online sports betting brand ESPN BET, cutting-edge technology and extensive operational expertise make them an ideal long-term partner for this industry.”
This year, ESPN+ will offer live feeds of featured groups on all 18 holes of the Wells Fargo Championship. As well, as it has done since 2020, ESPN and ESPN+ will also feature full coverage of the PGA Championships in Rochester, NY. Across both ESPN services, viewers will get over 230 hours of golf coverage during the PGA Championship.
This is part of ESPN’s growing golf presence, which includes exclusive PGA content on ESPN and ESPN+. It also foreshadows what users of the ESPN Bet app could eventually expect: live PGA event streaming in app with live betting overlays.
We’ve already seen this technology in the NFL through Genius Sports’ BetVision product. PENN and ESPN touted a similar synergy between ESPN’s sports media and sports betting content once ESPN Bet was up and running.
For PENN’s part, they’ve found success promoting similar golf events in Canada. As the Sports Business Journal reported, Penn Entertainment “creatively attracted attention for its sponsorship of the RBC Canadian Open in Toronto. Last year, it gave patrons at the PGA Tour event the chance to play a 150-yard Par 3 hole constructed near the tournament’s admissions gate. In 2022, it entertained small batches of guests in seats in a “skybox” dangled 100 feet above the 18th hole.”
ESPN Bet retail sportsbook unlikely at Quail Hollow
One of the stipulations of North Carolina’s sports betting law is that all operators must sign a written designation agreement with a pro sports entity to enter the state. Along with allowing the operator to apply for a sports betting license, that agreement gives them the exclusive right to build a retail sportsbook on or near the premises.
While not a requirement, some entities and sportsbooks may find adding a retail sportsbook attractive for both parties. NCSharp has considered the financial viability of these partnerships with retail sportsbooks in mind, and we find that Quail Hollow Club, while a bottom-tier partner, can provide a good fit for a brand not interested in opening a retail sportsbook.
The reality is that retail sportsbooks at golf courses are non-starters in most places. The lone exception is the DraftKings Sportsbook at TPC Scottsdale, home of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Drawing huge crowds during the tournament while also being open year-round as a public course, TPC Scottsdale gets inordinately high foot traffic among PGA golf courses.
Quail Hollow Club, a private club with costly club dues and a much smaller PGA tournament crowd, doesn’t fall into the same category as TPC Scottsdale, making the viability of an ESPN Bet retail sportsbook quite low.
This may be of no consequence to PENN and ESPN Bet, an upstart brand looking to carve out a portion of the online sports betting market. While retail sportsbooks can be great marketing techniques for established brands, they don’t provide much betting revenue. For ESPN Bet to compete with the likes of DraftKings and FanDuel, it will succeed on the strength of its customer base and the functionality of its app.
Details of partnership and status of written designation agreement
ESPN Bet went live in 14 states on Nov. 17, and now it looks to make North Carolina the fifteenth. The finer details of the ESPN Bet/Quail Hollow Club partnership are unknown but will likely include a 10-year agreement.
As NC Lottery Commission regulators noted last week, the application portal for sports betting operators, suppliers and service providers at ncgaming.gov is now open and will remain open until Dec. 27. All applications, including the written designation agreement, are available through the portal and must be therein submitted.
Considering that Bet365 and the Charlotte Hornets agreed to partner before the application portal opened, it appears that operators like ESPN Bet can complete the written designation agreement after agreeing on the partnership details.
How to access ESPN Bet in North Carolina
Once online sports betting goes live in the state, all bettors over the age of 21 and within state lines can download and use the ESPN Bet NC Sportsbook through their smart devices or computers. In fact, in the days before the NC online sports betting launch, bettors with the app installed will likely receive pre-launch NC sportsbook promos to use at launch.
To be clear, bettors are not required to visit Quail Hollow Club to access or use the app.
However, ESPN Bet plans to engage golf fans through its sports and sports betting content during the Wells Fargo Open. Once downloaded, ESPN Bet users can expect “unique fan activations” during the tournament.
Also, ESPN Bet branding at Quail Hollow Club and the club’s social media outlets will likely appear soon.
While no launch date has yet been announced for North Carolina online sports betting, NCSharp projects five potential targets and March Madness is still on the table.
Image Credit: Erik Verduzco / AP Images