Some more details emerged about ESPN Bet at the Global Gaming Expo (G2E) in Las Vegas last week.
Specifically, PENN Entertainment and ESPN continue to indicate that the sports network-branded sportsbook will launch in November.
On top of that, most of the features expected from ESPN Bet will be available from the get-go, which could help the sportsbook quickly build a foundation and become a contender, including in the world of New Jersey sports betting.
Of course, the cream of the crop remains DraftKings and FanDuel. But those industry leaders are not afraid. In fact, execs from the companies said at G2E, they welcome the competition.
Yes, ESPN Bet still expects to launch fully loaded in November
As relayed by Truist Securities analyst Barry Jonas, the goal remains for a November launch for ESPN Bet as PENN continues to toil away in the background as part of the rebrand effort away from Barstool Sportsbook.
Certainly, PENN CEO Jay Snowden conceded, the likes of DraftKings and FanDuel will still have the edge at first, considering the more “sophisticated” same-game parlay offerings of the two sportsbooks, as Jonas put it.
However, Snowden noted that ESPN Bet would go live with nearly all of its anticipated features. And while execs don’t expect ESPN Bet to immediately challenge the throne, optimism abounds. Thanks in large part to PENN’s history with another sports media-branded sportsbook that once called New Jersey home.
PENN has a template from theScore
One factor for a rosy outlook is ESPN’s highly recognized brand and outreach. PENN will leverage the recognition and deep customer database to help break into the upper echelon of legalized sports betting. Integrating ESPN’s 200 million monthly viewers with its own tach stack will certainly help.
PENN also has the fortune of seeing the success of theScore in Ontario, which Snowden told Jonas “provided the template” for ESPN Bet.
Once operational in New Jersey before closing up shop in 2022, theScore has enjoyed a 108% increase in customer retention over the past six months as well as a 32% crossover into online casino gaming. As Jonas elaborated: “Mr. Snowden stated that customer retention would be driven through an integrated-product and customer-value proposition, and not through aggressive promotional activity.”
(That said, Mike Morrison, vice president of sports betting and fantasy at ESPN, noted that the company won’t be stepping into the NJ online casinos space — or in any state — despite “significant equity upside.”)
However, JP Morgan analyst Joseph Greff noted that ESPN Bet could begin marketing itself will begin about two weeks before the go-live date.
DraftKings, FanDuel: Bring it on
There are reasons for optimism for ESPN Bet to start relatively strong. Snowden pointed out that some bettors may run out of early-season promotional dollars by the time ESPN Bet launches. As such, more bettors will be likely to open an ESPN account. Although Greff does not “foresee a World War III promotional environment in an already competitive market.”
By no means, though, does Snowden expect to jump to the No. 1 spot out of the gate. As the PENN CEO told Greff: “It won’t be the highest and won’t be the lowest, but will be competitive.” (For what it’s worth, ESPN users who don’t want to be flooded with sports betting features, the company will offer an opt-out toggle.)
Speaking at a G2E panel, Jason Robins, CEO of DraftKings, called incoming competition from ESPN Bet and Fanatics “great.”
“That’s the purpose of legalization,” Robins said. “And I think we need to do a better job of differentiating and cleaning out some of the illegal stuff.”
Nationally, DraftKings and FanDuel account for about an 80% market share. Here in New Jersey, handle is not broken down by operator. In terms of NJ sports betting revenue, however, DraftKings Sportsbook NJ and FanDuel Sportsbook NJ are part of licentiates that have combined for 68% of total revenue.
FanDuel CEO Amy Howe, speaking alongside Robins, highlighted her company’s focus not on competition but rather on itself and continuous product innovation. Similarly, Robins added that DraftKings will keep its attention on existing customers and attempting to lure all business away from illegal sportsbooks.
“If you don’t capture the illegal market first,” Robins said, “it kind of defeats the purpose of doing this.”