ESPN chair looking for “logical next step” in long-awaited sports betting push
Jimmy Pitaro commits to “leaning in a bit more” on sportbook plans but dismisses talk of an ESPN sportsbook
ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro has revealed the US sports broadcaster is in active conversations with sports betting operators about a potential licensing of the ESPN brand to a US sportsbook.
Speaking as part of the Sports Business Journal (SBJ) conference, Pitaro acknowledged earlier media reports suggesting that ESPN’s potential sportsbook partner was DraftKings, confirming the pair had held conversations over a deal.
“Yes, we’ve been exploring. We’ve had conversations with all the usual suspects and looking at what could be the logical next step for us,” Pitaro said.
However, the ESPN chair was firm in his affirmation that the sports broadcaster would not look to enter the sportsbook market itself.
“We are not going to, and I’ve said this repeatedly, create a book. We’re not going to take people’s money,” Pitaro reiterated.
“We are not going to set lines and spreads, and odds. It’s not what we do. But the idea of leaning in a bit more here and creating a more seamless experience is something that’s definitely on the table,” he added.
The deal is estimated to be worth as much as $3bn annually to ESPN and its parent, the Walt Disney Company, however questions have been raised as to whether any sportsbook operator in the US would be able to afford such a high fee for the rights to ESPN.
These plans were hit with a potential setback last month, when Disney CEO Bob Chapek, a long time proponent of a bigger lean into sports betting, was ousted from the top job and replaced by prior Disney Group executive and former CEO Bob Iger.
Iger has previously expressed his distaste for a sports betting expansion, and his sudden reappointment has led to many reports that he might derail the plans set in motion by his predecessor.
Pitaro remained upbeat about working with Iger again, having met with him at a board meeting to discuss ESPN on Tuesday afternoon.
“We have a very good relationship. I trust him. I feel like he trusts me. But most important, fast forward to today in terms of looking through the sports lens, he’s just got great sports instincts. He really understands this industry,” Pitaro said.