The ESPN Bet Massachusetts launch is set for Nov. 14, marking the brand’s mobile debut in the United States. Upwards of 16 more states are expected to follow.
For sports/infotainment juggernaut ESPN and its owner, Disney, it will mark the next grand venture. For partner PENN Entertainment, it might provide proof that a legacy media brand can be leveraged into a profitable gambling venture. Or end the idea entirely.
For Massachusetts sports bettors, it’ll be a hometown brand coming back, back, back in another form. ESPN Bet is a buttoned-down and retooled version of the highly successful Boston-bred Barstool media brand that was incredibly unsuccessful as a gambling platform. PENN in essence bought out Barstool ringmaster Dave Portnoy for $1 and a non-compete assurance in August, just months after buying it for a then-announced 10-year, $1.5 billion marketing deal with ESPN.
According to a company release, Barstool Sportsbook users will be prompted to download the ESPN Bet app to allow their digital wallet to transfer over.
A recent set of rankings released by Eilers & Krejcik Gaming said this of ESPN BET:
” … down one spot to 8th in the rankings. The app did the basics well (navigation, bet presentation) but did not have the bells and whistles of the top apps (no live streaming, forcing users out of the app to view data visualizations). That said, Penn can easily add those extras once it has completed the ESPN Bet migration and the app could climb our rankings.”
Massachusetts Regulators a Telling Gauntlet for ESPN Bet
Gaining approval from the Massachusetts Gaming Commission was a key milestone for ESPN Bet, and not just because the state fosters a thriving sports betting market with nine online operators. The MGC has proved to be one of the more stringent gatekeepers for legal gambling nationally and its concerns over ESPN Bet's incursion into murky responsible gambling areas were enlightening.
Key among them was how ESPN would integrate gambling content into its sports content without influencing minors.
PENN chief strategy officer Chris Rogers attempted to assuage those concerns by remarking in an opening statement to the commission that ESPN would not “glorify sports betting or downplay the risk of wagering."
Massachusetts betting code also forbids betting on in-state college teams with the exception of certain tournaments and Rogers assured the commission that ESPN Bet promotions would not be visible to live television audiences during games originating in college venues.
Rogers also asserted that ESPN's journalists would remain independent, saying "there will be no connection between the ESPN insiders, reporters, or news desk with anyone who handles risk and trading for PENN."
PENN, ESPN Bet on ESPN Bet Being the Success Story
Utilizing ESPN's ubiquitous presence while not failing to deliver on these promises will be an interesting dance for ESPN. Mainstream sports media content has included more gambling data every year since the repeal of the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act in 2018 allowed for 39 US jurisdictions to be in some state of legalizing sports betting in 2023.
ESPN Bet's deal with PENN is voidable if certain market share requirements aren't met, CEO Jay Snowden said, when the deal was announced. Though he didn't specifically detail them, Barstool didn't set them high, currently amassing just a 2.8% national market share since its debut in 2020, according to the Gaming Today sports betting revenue tracker.