Women In Sports Betting: ESPN’s Sarah Spain On The Convergence Of Gambling & Broadcasting

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ESPN's Sarah Spain offers key insights on the convergence of sports betting and broadcasting. (ESPN)

Editor’s note: ESPN’s Sarah Spain joins us for the second installment of Gaming Today’s “Women In Sports Betting” series, which highlights the contributions of women in the sports betting industry.   

ESPN’s Sarah Spain is an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning journalist, and her work is showcased on TV, radio, and online. The Chicago-area native is self-admittedly not an expert on all things sports betting, but she continues to learn and incorporate the lessons in her craft. 

With the frenzied pace of legalized sports betting’s expansion in the US, gambling talk has become more the norm on television and radio broadcasts. No longer verboten, it’s an accepted part of the production. We were curious to get Spain’s take on that development and how it’s impacted her roles on ESPN platforms.   

A recent study by GWS found that 4.6 million new female users joined sportsbook betting apps in 2021, up 115% over the previous year, a faster rate than for men. Spain was one of those women, and she shares a humorous story about her first involvement as a sports bettor in this exclusive interview with Gaming Today.

The Nexus Of Sports Betting & Broadcasting

Gaming Today: Sports betting has become ubiquitous in the last couple of years. How much pressure was there, if any, for you to learn more about sports betting when it came to doing your job well?
Sarah Spain: It was just internal pressure from myself. When gambling became much more mainstream, I realized I had to at least have some of the cursory knowledge for it.

GT: Do you have any sports betting segments that you particularly enjoy doing?
Spain: It’s funny. On “Spain and Fitz,” we started having (Daily Wager host) Doug Kezirian come on, and we would do the three bets (of the day). The first would be dip a toe, the second would be wade in, and the third one would be like you’re a full-blown degenerate. There was a level of understanding and fear required for each wager. That tends to be how we approach things on our show.

GT: At what point did you realize that sports betting was becoming a force in your industry?
Spain: The pivot point for me personally beyond March Madness pools and fantasy football was the Super Bowl (in 2021). During Covid, I was facing the potential of just me, my three dogs, and my husband on the couch. I said, ‘I’m going to gamble on the game.’ I spent weeks and weeks breaking down every single part of this game. I knew it well enough to feel super comfortable gambling on it. And then I realized, I don’t even know how to do that. Where do I sign up, and how do I do this? 

GT: So, how did you do it?
Spain: I think I opened a DraftKings account. I did accidentally bet the same thing twice separately as I was learning how to use the app. I did figure out how to use the free bet. I put down nine different bets, and I hit on seven of out of nine, and the grand total was like $300 or something.

GT: What are your favorite things to bet on?
Spain: I still don’t do it a ton. I did put down futures bets for the Super Bowl on the Bills, Rams, and Bucs. It was a $200 free bet that I put in in October, so I made $1,800 on the Rams winning, which was cool. I’m just dipping the toe in. I like a lot of prop bets. I like to understand what a tight end has to do to have a good game against a certain defense.

Sports Betting As A Catalyst To Grow Interest In Women’s Sports

GT: You’re a co-owner of the Chicago Red Stars in the National Women’s Soccer League. In what ways can sports betting help grow interest for your team and the league?
Spain: I want to be able to use people’s investment in gambling to reverse engineer their interest in women’s sports as well. There are people who are driven by wagering and knowing and understanding a sport and being able to tell other people. So, getting people to care about the WNBA, NWSL, and women’s sports even if the gateway drug is wagering seems like another cool thing to have in my bag of tricks as someone who wants to keep advocating for that space.

GT: OK, we’re testing your loyalty here. The Cubs are currently being offered at 150-1 to win the World Series. Are you making that bet?
Spain: Hell, no! Have you been watching them? I am not one of those people that shows up before the season and says, ‘Let’s just take a flyer on the worst (team).’ You’re not going to be as bad as the Cubs are and do anything. In baseball, you know at the beginning of the season that your team sucks. You know it, and we suck.

GT: We spoke with ESPN’s Chris Fallica previously, and he was candid about some of the blowback he receives on Twitter related to sports betting. Not that you’re regularly picking games, but how do you handle negative comments, and are you pretty active on social?
Spain: I wish I could say no. I would say I’m fully addicted, unfortunately, to the hellscape that is Twitter.  One of the interesting things about wagering … I have to be authentic in the space and that (sometimes) means admitting I don’t know what I’m doing. Because when I knew even less and I wanted to get involved, everywhere I went was overwhelming and intimidating. It felt very judgy. Whether or not that was the case, it felt like these people are using words I don’t know and are way out ahead of me on this. Even asking about it will reveal to people what I don’t know, and I was in terror about that.

Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Also read: Women In Sports Betting: Sara Slane Talks Industry Trends

About the Author

Kris Johnson

Writer & Contributor
With more than 15 years of experience as a sports journalist, Kris Johnson’s work has appeared in Sports Business Daily, Sports Business Journal, NASCAR Illustrated, and more. Kris also wrote a sports-betting novel entitled The Endgame.

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