ESPN joins US sports betting gold rush with Caesars partnership
By Simon Ward
ESPN, the renowned US sports broadcaster, is the latest powerhouse in the sector to embrace the country’s expanding betting industry having today entered a partnership with casino giant Caesars Entertainment that will entail the use of odds data for dedicated programming.
The move follows last year’s US Supreme Court ruling that effectively gave states the right to legalise sports betting in their jurisdictions, and has paved the way for various tie-ups between top leagues and both casinos and gambling companies.
Under the deal announced on Tuesday, Caesars data and branding will be integrated in ESPN digital and television programming, and an ESPN-branded studio will be built at the Linq Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the US gambling hub, for the creation of sports betting-themed content and segments for the recently-launched Daily Wager show on the ESPNews channel.
The tie-up reflects the growing acceptance of sports betting across US leagues and media since last May’s repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which largely outlawed the activity outside Nevada.
A further seven states (Delaware, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and West Virginia) have now legalised it, to a greater or lesser extent, with others set to follow before the end of this year.
The lifting of restrictions has also prompted new betting partnerships such as that between the NFL and Caesars, valued at close to $30 million a year, while MLB, the NBA, the NHL and MLS are now all aligned with rival MGM Resorts. Overseas sports betting companies such as William Hill, Paddy Power-Betfair and GVC Holdings have also partnered with casinos as they seek to make a breakthrough in the US market.
Caesars will act as ESPN’s official odds data supplier across TV and digital platforms, and benefit from additional advertising and sponsorship activations over the course of the deal.
The studio is due to open in 2020, and will serve as the hub for odds-related content and contribute to TV, digital and social media shows as well as ESPN.com and the ESPN app.
Walt Disney-owned ESPN remains one of the main broadcasters of sport in USA, with rights to top leagues including the NFL, MLB and NBA, and has cited research showing that two-thirds of avid sports betters already watch its content.
Earlier this year, Turner Broadcasting announced its own deal with Caesars to build a studio at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas for its Bleacher Report website to offer bettting-relating programming.
The ESPN move comes just days after Fox Sports announced it was acquiring just under 5 per cent of The Stars Group, a Canadian gaming company, in a deal worth $236 million that will entail the launch of Fox Bet, a dedicated sports betting platform in USA.
Eric Shanks, chief executive of Fox Sports, has previously said he believes the US sports betting and online casino market could be worth $9 billion per year by 2025.
Hailing its new partnership, Mike Morrison, the vice-president of business development at ESPN, said today: “The sports betting landscape has changed, and fans are coming to us for this kind of information more than ever before. We are poised to expand our coverage in a big way and working with a category leader like Caesars Entertainment will help us serve these highly engaged, diverse sports fans with the best and most relevant content possible."
Chris Holdren, executive vice-president and chief marketing officer at Caesars, added: “We're really excited about the long-term value this collaboration with ESPN will create and thrilled that, starting immediately, ESPN's platforms will begin featuring odds information generated by Caesars Entertainment. Millions of sports fans look to ESPN as a sports authority, and Caesars is honored to have been selected for having the best odds to serve those fans. When you combine that level of exposure alongside the unique opportunity to build a studio along the famed Las Vegas Strip, this deal is truly unique."
Speakers on a panel at the recent Betting on Football conference in London said they believed the media would play a significant role in the growth of US sports betting, in part through new programming and digital content, but also potentially as operators.
Mark Blandford, the founder of UK online betting pioneer Sportingbet, said: “The media in the US needs to evolve, and provide that type of content. I think that will happen as the market over there transitions. The second thing I’m thinking about with the media is what role do they want to play? Could there be a brand out there that wants to become an operator or at least leverage its brand? I guess there’s a small third part as well in that do they want to play at being affiliates or not?”
Joe Lee, head of SAS at Paddy Power-Betfair, could see progress already, saying: “If we were sitting here last year and someone told me that ESPN who are owned by Disney, a nice wholesome brand, were about to do a one-hour daily slot on sports betting [Daily Wager], you would be quite surprised. I think that tells you all you need to know as a starter for ten from a media standpoint that there is an appetite there.”
However, Bob Iger, the chief executive of Disney, has ruled out his company becoming directly involved in gambling, saying last week: "We'll provide programming that will, I guess, be designed to enlighten people who are betting on sports. But that's as far as we would go."
Last October, a Nielsen Sports report commissioned by the AGA predicted that the top four US major leagues stand to earn a combined $4.2 billion per year in extra revenue from various sources, as a result of the widespread legalisation of betting. The NFL led the way with $2.3 billion, ahead of MLB with $1.1 billion, the NBA with $585 million, and the NHL with $216 million.