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ESPN expands sports betting presence with Caesars, DraftKings deals

ESPN’s aggressive march into sports betting-related content is continuing unbated as the American sports media giant has entered into separate multiyear link integration agreements with Caesars Entertainment and DraftKings.

The Caesars deal expanded on a prior deal struck last year that created in part a new ESPN-branded studio at the LINQ Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. The new elements include direct links from ESPN digital platforms to William Hiill, Caesars’ sports betting partner.

The DraftKings alignment, meanwhile, continues a rollercoaster relationship in recent years between the company and ESPN. More than five years ago, the Disney-owned DraftKings was set to make a $250m investment in DraftKings. That equity deal was called off, but was later reconstituted as an exclusive advertising-based deal for daily fantasy sports that ultimately was also ended early as Disney and ESPN at the time grappled with the legality of daily fantasy sports and its proximity to gambling.

Since then, though, sports wagering has become widely legal in the United States as the US Supreme Court has generally allowed states to make their own laws in this area. Disney now owns a 6 per cent minority stake of DraftKings following its larger acquisition last year of Twenty-First Century Fox. And the new alignment will see DraftKings become ESPN’s exclusive daily fantasy sports and co-exclusive sportsbook link-out provider.

Financial terms were not disclosed.

“Our new agreements with Caesars and DraftKings collectively represent the next significant milestone for ESPN to diversify our exposure and deepen our commitment in the sports betting space,” said Mike Morrison, ESPN vice president of business development and innovation.

“We began growing the experience through content, followed by odds utilizing William Hill’s sports betting data and a new state-of-the-art studio facility in Las Vegas through our deal with Caesars, and now with the addition of DraftKings, we are bringing together the sports media leader with two of the top brands and best products in the market,” Morrison said.

ESPN’s digital properties consistently are one of the most highly trafficked among any American sports media entity, providing Caesars and DraftKings access to a large and fertile source of customer engagement.

“ESPN helped revolutionize the 24/7 sports news cycle and continues to be the go-to source for many fans today on the latest and largest sports stories,” said Jason Robins, DraftKings co-founder and chief executive. “We look forward to this collaboration to exclusively showcase DraftKings’ daily fantasy content and offerings while also advancing further visibility and mainstream adoption of our regulated sports betting products.”

The Caesars and DraftKings deals also follow recent moves by ESPN to bulk up their own sports wagering content, including the debut of a new digital show and dedicated YouTube channel.

“Sports betting is quickly becoming endemic to the overall experience of the sports fan,” said Mark Walker, ESPN senior vice president of business development and innovation. “To us, that means greater opportunities to innovate and deliver the best and most seamless experience for fans, which will ultimately expand ESPN’s brand and audience and increase engagement. It is an industry that we will continue to actively pursue as it grows and evolves.”

The news of the ESPN partnership fueled a 17.3 per cent single-day rise in DraftKings stock on September 14 to a close of $48.62 per share, a new company all-time high. The stock has nearly tripled in value since the company went public in April, and with the surge, DraftKings’ market capitalization is now $17.3bn.

Caesars stock, meanwhile, to rose 10.5 per cent to $55.39 per share, its highest level since the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic in force to the United States in March. Disney stock closed at $131.25 per share, down 0.5 per cent.

“ESPN’s unparalleled reach provides a transformational opportunity for sports fans and enthusiasts to engage and wager at their fingertips,” said Tom Reeg, Caesars Entertainment chief executive.

DraftKings also recently announced that global sports icon Michael Jordan, also owner of the National Basketball Association’s Charlotte Hornets, is also a special advisor and investor in the company. The company then quickly followed that up with a separate deal to open a sportsbook at Wrigley Field, home of Major League Baseball’s Chicago Cubs.

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