From time to time, ESPN flirts with the sports betting world and its relationship with Disney, its parent company. During those times, ESPN reiterates it has no interest in getting involved with setting odds and taking bets.
ESPN already has some partnerships with DraftKings, as well as a branded studio in Las Vegas with Caesars Entertainment. At a Sports Business Journal conference in New York, ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro said the network can do more, short of running a book, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
“Yes, we’ve been exploring. We’ve had conversations with all the usual suspects and looking at what could be the logical next step for us,” Pitaro said. “We are not going to, and I’ve said this repeatedly, we are not going to create a book. We’re not going to take people’s money.”
Based on its own research, ESPN found that sports fans like ESPN’s commentary related to sports betting and prefer to see more. Turns out, this audience is well-healed and prone to spending a lot of time in sports mode.
ESPN won’t make a move until the returning Disney CEO Bob Iger has his say after reviewing the latest pronouncements.
“We have a very good relationship. I trust him. I feel like he trusts me. But most important, fast forward to today in terms of looking through the sports lens, he’s just got great sports instincts. He really understands this industry,” Pitaro said.
Pitaro favors keeping ESPN under Disney rather than spin it off, as some shareholders prefer.
“That being said, will there come a point in time where our flagship channels are available a la carte direct to consumer? Yes. Who makes that decision? We’re monitoring it. Of course, we’re looking at the traditional ecosystem,” Pitaro said.
ESPN faces increasing competition for eyeballs, whether competitive streamers or more traditional broadcasting.
Looking at competitors such as Amazon and Apple, which have been snatching up sports rights, Pitaro said he believes Amazon’s move into the space benefits ESPN because it could potentially bring in a younger audience and get viewers used to streaming sports. But at the same time, Pitaro acknowledges that it brings in more competition for sports rights.
“If they’re training folks to watch a Thursday Night Football game on a direct-to-consumer platform, that we feel like that will also help ESPN+,” he said.
Pitaro brought up Apple’s 10-year agreement to stream Major League Soccer. The deal includes some matches only available to existing MLS subscriptions
“I’m just as curious as everyone in this room to see how it plays out,” he said.