PENN Entertainment caught quite a few people off guard last week with its $2 billion deal to rebrand its online sports betting operation under the ESPN name.
The move has some potential for both parties, but not without some risk. Here’s our analysis of the megadeal between PENN and ESPN.
Let’s start with the obvious. The ESPN name will bring a lot of eyeballs. While the number of households has dipped steadily over the years, it still was in 73.5M households as of June, according to Sports TV Ratings.
While Barstool offered better access to a younger demographic more inclined to bet on sports, ESPN offers a bigger audience and a more affluent one, too. According to NationalMediaSpots.com, more than half of ESPN’s households have incomes greater than $75,000, and the median income is $78,000.
From a sports perspective, no other network offers the extensive menu of games and matches that ESPN can. Despite losing Big Ten TV rights this fall, it retains other major college conferences. They could also offer some unique Massachusetts sports betting promos.
The network airs NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB games and broadcasts other major sporting events (Wimbledon and The Masters, to name a couple) throughout the year.
Football is the main draw, and this past season saw an average of 13.4 million viewers for Monday Night Football, according to Nielsen. College football games aired on the ESPN networks and ABC also draw millions on Saturdays as well as Thursday and Friday nights.
The content is a great way to promote the brand, but if the technology advances, ESPN could leverage that to gain a big advantage over its competitors. An ESPN sports betting app that offers a single-screen solution could be a difference maker in the sports betting marketplace and cut into the big slices of the sports betting pie controlled by FanDuel and DraftKings Massachusetts.
There’s one big red flag regarding an ESPN sports betting app – underage exposure.
NationalMediaSpots data shows that 31% of ESPN households have at least one child. In addition to the potential exposure through television programming, there’s also the potential for exposure on ESPN’s standard app, which is likely downloaded on millions of devices used by minors.
The Massachusetts Gaming Commission extensively discussed PENN’s relationship with Barstool and the potential for promoting sports betting to a younger crowd with their Massachusetts sports betting app. Don’t be surprised if that same discussion happens again with the MGC.
ESPN must also adhere to regulations that differ among the sports betting states. Last year the Ohio Casino Control Commission fined PENN’s interactive division $250,000 after Barstool Sports aired a college football show with a live audience at the University of Toledo. When the broadcast team promoted the sportsbook during the show, it led to a violation of OCCC rules that ban sports betting promotion on college campuses.
One of ESPN’s staples is College Football Gameday, a show that often airs from college campuses and has a live audience that includes people under 21. Will PENN face fines if the Gameday crew promotes the sportsbook during a telecast located in a state with rules like Ohio?
Surely ESPN, the network provider of Monday Night Football, will not have any issues promoting the Patriots Super Bowl odds, but collegiate sports could become an issue.
ESPN’s not the first to go down this route. Even before Barstool, there was FOX Bet, which just announced its shutdown last week after Flutter Entertainment kept that app in FanDuel’s shadow.
Sports Illustrated, which once upon a time was as big as a sports media outlet as ESPN, is seeing its branded sportsbook struggle for relevance in Colorado, Michigan and Virginia.
If any sportsbook tied to a media outlet can succeed, it’s likely ESPN. However, it’s far from being a sure thing.