Disney CEO Eyes US Sports Betting Market Entry via ESPN

  • Disney sees “enormous opportunity in sports” with ESPN+ subscribers increasing by 66% 
  • The company believes that “ESPN is a perfect platform” to get into sports betting
  • The CEO said sports betting will have no impact on the Disney brand and will strengthen ESPN’s 
Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu logos on a smartphone
During Disney’s Q4 2021 earnings call, the company revealed that it is looking to enter the US sports betting market via its subsidiary ESPN. [Image: Shutterstock.com]

US betting market pivot

Disney CEO Bob Chapek has posited using the entertainment and media giant’s existing sports broadcasting portfolio in a potential betting market pivot by licensing its subsidiary brand ESPN.

ESPN communications manager John R. Manzo took to Twitter to share his surprise that Chapek, via his firm’s Q4 2021 earnings call, was “giving love to sports betting.”

During the call, Chapek said Disney sees “enormous opportunity in sports” and went on to highlight how ESPN+ subscribers increased by 66% over the past fiscal year.

Chapek added that Disney was “moving toward a greater presence in online sports betting” and said that given the iconic brand’s reach and scale, potential partnerships with third parties in the online sports wagering market could be “very meaningful.”

ESPN courting sportsbooks

After officially stating its online sports betting vision, Disney has followed through on revelations this summer that ESPN was looking to license its brand to sports betting operators. An August 27 report by Seeking Alpha said that ESPN had already been in sports betting talks with its marketing partners Caesars Entertainment and DraftKings, and that it was aiming for a multi-year deal of at least $3bn.

Disney’s vast portfolio of businesses includes 20th Century Fox, Marvel, Star Wars, A+E Networks, National Geographic and, of course, ESPN. In 2018, Disney put its weight and funding behind fighting casino gambling expansion in Florida, arguing it risked the state’s “reputation as a family-friendly destination.”

Chapek’s earning call outtakes will therefore be music to the ears of Caesars, DraftKings, plus BetMGM, Fox, and Flutter Entertainment.

In the earnings call, fintech company Capital.com said the CEO stressed younger consumers, in particular, were driving the market with their “desire to have gambling as part of their sports experience.” As Disney strategically follows the consumer, Chapek said, the brand has to “seriously consider getting into gambling in bigger way and ESPN is a perfect platform for this.”

Makers of Bambi going into sports betting?

The Disney brand is synonymous with feel-good family-oriented entertainment, so how will this square with its entering sports betting?

Chapek acknowledged concerns existed in the company about entering sports betting “without having a brand withdrawal,” but that his firm had done its homework on the impact of gambling on its ESPN and Disney brands.

it has no impact on the Disney brand”

On the contrary, Chapek said, citing internal research: “It actually strengthens the brand of ESPN when you have a betting component, and it has no impact on the Disney brand.”

The Disney CEO concluded that the demographic opportunity plus the attractive revenue attached makes sports betting an area the business is “keenly interested in and […] pursuing aggressively.”