Saturday December 9, 2023

ESPN Treads Lightly with Promoting Its Own ESPN Bet

  • The much-anticipated first weekend of ESPN Bet didn’t come with an over-the-top promotional rollout of betting app.
  • “It’s really a licensing and marketing deal with a path toward Disney getting equity in PENN,” said one gambling consultant.
ESPN and PENN Entertainment
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The much-anticipated first weekend of ESPN Bet didn’t come with a promotional rollout to match.

ESPN included no reminders during Saturday’s “College GameDay.” Sunday’s early-morning Las Vegas Grand Prix broadcast didn’t have any mention of ESPN Bet, and you had to look closely to find ESPN Bet on “Sunday NFL Countdown.”

PENN Entertainment — the betting company running ESPN Bet — touted the ESPN firehose, but there are regulatory, contractual, and other reasons why the online betting launch hasn’t resulted in an inundation of promos for viewers.

“For as much as ESPN Bet has been hyped, ESPN doesn’t run the sportsbook,” gambling consultant Dustin Gouker told Front Office Sports. “It’s really a licensing and marketing deal with a path toward Disney getting equity in PENN.”

And it doesn’t prevent market leaders FanDuel, DraftKings, and other sportsbooks from running ads on ESPN promoting their more established products. 

ESPN Bet launched on Tuesday, three months after the 10-year, $2 billion deal between the Disney subsidiary and PENN Entertainment was announced

“College GameDay” was at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, on Saturday. Virginia is one of the 17 states where ESPN Bet operates. PENN had operated in the state already when its online sportsbook had Barstool branding. 

Virginia law prevents the promoting betting to anyone under 21, which explains why “GameDay” lacked ESPN Bet promos during the hours-long broadcast.  

“ESPN Bet follows strict guidelines with respect to the promotion, advertising and solicitation of its services, and will not conduct any in-person gambling related marketing activities while physically present on a college campus or in front of an audience that is primarily composed of individuals under the age of 21,” a PENN spokesperson said in a statement to FOS. 

There are other reasons why ESPN may not want to go overboard with touting ESPN Bet. 

“If a game is on ESPN, and something happens it’s not ESPN who will be refunding customers,” Gouker said. “That’d be on PENN. It’s within the culture of sports betting to go on social media and ask for their bets to be voided.”

While the “Thursday Night Football” game between the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens was on Amazon, an ESPN Bet promo featured “Get Up,” “NBA Countdown,” and ESPN Radio host Mike Greenberg. The “Seeing Green” parlay included a prop for quarterback Joe Burrow, who was injured early in the game and exited. 

After the game’s conclusion, ESPN Bet announced on X (formerly Twitter) that it’d refund the bonus bets placed on the parlay.  

“They want those people who got that $200 bonus and all the existing Barstool users to stick around,” Gouker said.

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