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ESPN Ventures into Legal Sports Betting with PENN Entertainment

August 8, 2023 3

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ESPN Ventures into Legal Sports Betting with PENN Entertainment

  • ESPN’s Shift in Strategy: Historically, ESPN, a Disney-owned entity, had actively distanced itself from the gambling sector. However, in a significant shift, the sports media giant has now forged a partnership with PENN Entertainment to launch ESPN Bet.
  • Rebranding Move: ESPN Bet is not an entirely new entity. Instead, it’s a rebranded version of the Barstool Sportsbook, which was a crucial segment of the sports media brand that PENN acquired in two phases.
  • Strategic Timing: Despite undergoing a massive internal reorganization, including significant layoffs and potential equity sales, ESPN believes the current moment is ripe for this venture. This confidence stems from the growing acceptance and establishment of legal sports betting, especially after the pivotal U.S. Supreme Court decision that granted states the autonomy to regulate sports betting.
  • Serving the Fans: Jimmy Pitaro, the chairman of ESPN, emphasized that the primary goal remains to cater to sports enthusiasts. He believes that fans are not only interested in betting content but also desire a seamless betting experience. The collaboration with PENN Entertainment is a step towards fulfilling this demand.
  • Financial Aspects of the Deal: PENN Entertainment has committed to a $1.5 billion cash payment to ESPN, spread over an initial decade. Additionally, ESPN will receive around $500 million in stock warrants, allowing them to purchase shares in PENN Entertainment over the next ten years. In exchange, PENN will leverage the ESPN brand and its extensive marketing capabilities, tapping into the vast audience of the largest U.S. sports digital media entity.
  • Barstool Sports’ Future: Dave Portnoy, the founder of Barstool Sports, will reclaim 100% ownership of the outlet from PENN Entertainment. This move concludes a relationship spanning over three years, during which Barstool Sportsbook couldn’t quite match up to industry giants like FanDuel and DraftKings. However, any future sale or monetization of Barstool will ensure that PENN Entertainment receives half of the gross proceeds.
  • Industry Dynamics: This strategic move by ESPN comes shortly after Fox Corp. and Flutter Entertainment decided to close Fox Bet, indicating a trend of consolidation in the sports betting industry. The announcement of PENN Entertainment’s decision to transition from Barstool Sports to ESPN led to a surge in PENN National shares by over 20% during after-hours trading.

In Conclusion: The partnership between ESPN and PENN Entertainment marks a significant milestone in the sports betting industry. As legal sports betting continues to gain traction, collaborations like these will shape the future landscape of sports media and betting.

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