On the heels of Connecticut legalizing retail and online sports betting comes the announcement that the state’s most prominent media outlet, ESPN, might be planning to enter the sports betting market.
The Bristol-based and self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports is rumored to be “all-in” on the legalization movement sweeping the nation. In fact, the company might be contemplating an ESPN-branded sportsbook.
The marriage between sports betting and media
ESPN has been a trendsetter in sports coverage since it first went on air in 1979. Still, combining sports coverage with sports betting has already been done, so ESPN is slightly behind the curve.
For instance: the FOX Bet app, spawned from a 2019 partnership between FOX Sports and The Stars Group. This platform combines sports news with on-air personalities and sports betting into a single service.
Likewise, the Barstool Sports and Penn National Gaming collaboration culminated in the 2020 launch of the Barstool Sportsbook in Pennsylvania. The bookmaker has since expanded into Michigan, Illinois and Indiana. The group plans to also open in New Jersey, Colorado and several other jurisdictions.
Nevertheless, should it decide to enter the fray, ESPN could instantly become one of the biggest names in the sports betting business.
For now, according to Front Office Sports, the discussions are in their early stages. But one source noted:
“Everything’s now on the table at ESPN. They’re exploring everything.”
Foundation laid for ESPN to expand into sports betting
ESPN has embraced the sports betting trend, a fact reflected in the company’s programming choices.
Examples abound: “Bettor Days” hosted by Mike Greenberg, Scott Van Pelt and his show’s “Bad Beats” segment that focuses on the worst backdoor covers and busted totals for the night, and the Las Vegas-based “Daily Wager” program that continues to thrive and has even inspired a sister podcast.
Additionally, ESPN and Caesars have a long-term contract in place, which designates William Hill as the network’s exclusive odds provider and the official sponsor of ESPN’s fantasy products.
If the media company’s sports betting plans materialize, they’ll be in a solid position to compete with industry incumbents.
The legality of an ESPN sportsbook in CT
Connecticut’s regulations limit the number of online sports betting apps to three: one each for the Mohegan Tribe, Mashantucket Pequot and the Connecticut Lottery. This restriction will likely prevent ESPN from operating in Connecticut.
Still, a brick-and-mortar ESPN sportsbook could be a possibility in Connecticut. As could a cross-state app, similar to the one offered by FOX and Barstool, is also very much in the cards for the media giant.
Not all states are in play yet for an ESPN sports betting app, of course. But with revenues topping $4 billion since state-regulated sports betting expanded in 2018 and the industry’s relentless march toward nationwide legalization, even a limited ESPN sportsbook constitutes a big bet — with an even bigger potential payoff.