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Betting.net / Disney ventures into sports betting with $2 billion ESPN investment

Disney ventures into sports betting with $2 billion ESPN investment

Publish Date: August 20, 2023
Fact checked by: Jesse M Cox
Video: Disney's ESPN strikes $2B sports betting deal with Penn Entertainment

Disney’s ESPN strikes $2B sports betting deal with Penn Entertainment

Disney’s $2 billion deal for ESPN signals its entry into the sports betting sector. In partnership with Penn Entertainment, ESPN will introduce ESPN Bet sportsbook in the upcoming fall.

The launch of ESPN Bet, which now becomes Penn National Gaming’s betting division, marks a major moment in the legal sports betting scene in the United States. It reflects how media giants are changing in the streaming era, especially as gambling grows in popularity across 34 states and Washington, DC, though notably not in California, Texas, and Florida.

The rapidly changing media landscape

Before the $2 billion ESPN deal, Disney’s historical stance on gambling remained largely unaltered since the release of the 1940 film “Pinocchio.” In the movie, the puppet’s visit to Pleasure Island is tainted by vices, including gambling, which resonated as a cautionary tale.

This perspective persisted until 2019 when CEO Bob Iger said the company might not get “involved in the business of gambling, in effect, by facilitating gambling in any way.”

Disney even invested over $20 million in 2018 to lobby against casino development in Florida. This state is home to Disney World, which emphasized its opposition to gambling.

However, this steadfast position has evolved in recent times. Like many other media companies, Disney faces challenges amid the changing media landscape. Cord-cutting, where customers opt for personalized digital purchases over traditional bundled TV subscriptions, continues to grow.

The shift to à la carte models is not adequately compensating media companies. In the fiscal third quarter, Disney’s streaming division incurred a loss of $512 million, leading the company to raise prices for select services significantly. Subscriptions for ESPN+ surged from 3.5 million in 2019 to 25.2 million in 2023, but ESPN still implemented cost-saving layoffs.

In contrast, legal sports betting reached a record $93.2 billion in wagers in 2022, generating $7.5 billion in revenue, according to the American Gaming Association. This marks a more than sevenfold increase in three years from 2019 figures of $13 billion in wagers and $909 million in sportsbook revenue.

ESPN Bet emerges as Penn rebrands its Barstool Sportsbook app and website, licensed in 16 states, committing $1.5 billion to ESPN over a decade and $500 million in stock warrants. This partnership signals Penn’s intent to tap into a broader audience.

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