So ESPN has decided to embrace what so many consider the dark side, and has become Exhibit A on to what lengths Bob Iger will choose to embrace business partnerships. As NEWSWEEK’s Robby Sabo objectively reported yesterday:
On Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, a dual press release rocked the online sportsbook world just as the workday petered out.
ESPN had finally entered the online sports betting industry.
Per ESPN’s press release, the ESPN Bet App intends to launch in the Fall of 2023 in conjunction with a stunning new agreement with PENN Entertainment. Expect ESPN Bet to be available on the iOS Apple App Store and Android Google Play.
“ESPN today announced an agreement with PENN Entertainment to launch ESPN BET, a branded sportsbook for fans in the United States,” the press release reads. “PENN Entertainment will rebrand its current sportsbook and relaunch as ESPN BET, effective this Fall in the 16 legalized betting states where PENN Entertainment is licensed. The rebrand includes the mobile app, website, and mobile website.”
If one were to take a sampling of the reactions of sports and business fans to this news at face value, you might be seeing a mixture of disbelief and consternation at the thought of a Disney company going so front and center into the embracing of a culture that has been preying upon the vulnerabilities and mindsets of hard-working people since, well, the Stone Age:
There are even many pundits who are foreseeing this as a sign that ESPN will eventually be spun off, lest it endanger the esteemed Disney brand. But in earnings calls this week, of all of the entertainment assets that have drawn speculation that they may be sold for parts, chairman Bob Iger was overly complimentary of ESPN and championed the move to the likes of (ironically) NBC Sports, who observed as follows:
It’s always about the money.
When they say it’s about the money, it’s about the money. When they say it’s not about the money, it’s not about the money.
For ESPN’s recent deal with Penn National, it was about the money. As in $1.5 billion in cash over 10 years, plus even more value in stock.
“We believe there’s an opportunity to significantly grow engagement across ESPN consumers, particularly young consumers,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said Wednesday, via FrontOfficeSports.com. “And why PENN? Because PENN stepped up in a very aggressive way and made an offer to us that was better than any of the competitive offers — by far.”
That’s a compelling statement. It means that the others who made offers grossly underestimated the value of the partnership, or that Penn grossly overestimated it.
And given my own experience with Disney, I’m not the least bit surprised, either.
The last time I went to Disney World, the price of an all-day pass to the multiple theme parks, uncluding unlimited transporation vouchers, was $168. I had actually stopped off at an ATM to try and keep myself on something resembling a budget. I handed the ticket taker two Benjamins and was then cheerfully asked “Would you like your change in Disney Dollars? They’re good anywhere in the parks!!. “
Only after I pressed was I told that if I didn’t happen to spend it, I would need to go the bank on Main Street in the main park to convert it back to U.S. currency, and I’d need to be there before it closed at 5 PM. In other words, stop what I was doing at the peak of the day to schlep back to a “bank” and stand in line.
Now imagine if I had a young child in tow, especially one that would want to have something this cute in their wallet to perhaps have the priviilage to buy an ice cream cone. Do you truly think I’d ever see the inside of a bank in the Magic Kingdom?
So if Disney has already mastered the ability to find a way to get my change out of me with adorable little colored pieces of paper, I’d imagine it would be just as easy for the to offer vouchers to wager on who might win the Magic game that night down the road.
And if I happen to lose, no worries. Because then I can look forward to the likes of Stanford Steve, already prominent as a key part of the late night Scott Van Pelt-hosted Sportscenter, who yesterday was given a second big job:
“Stanford Steve” Coughlin is joining the team as a college football betting analyst.
“Welcome to the squad, @StanfordSteve82. He’ll join the show each week to share his gambling expertise and best bets,” College GameDay wrote in an announcement on Thursday.
And truth be told, all credible data suggests that the length of tune-in and frequency of engagement among those who have a stake in the outcome is greater than that of the average viewers’. Which means that morality aside, there’s some legitimate business justifcation for ESPN to embrace this approach.
So say what you will, the Bally’s nightmare of branding failing RSNs notwithstanding, I’m not gonna rain on this particular parade. For me and for now, it’s a moot point, since I’m for the moment in one of the 34 states that can’t yet legally place mobile bets and, of course, I don’t have the budget.
But I assure you, even if and when things do turn around, I’m probably gonna avoid the temptation. After all, look what it did to poor Freddy Flintstone.