Feb 3, 2024 - Business

Gambling companies battle ESPN in new talent war

Illustration of a stack of gambling chips with a play button in the center.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Gambling platforms are unleashing plans to become the next great sports media companies.

Why it matters: Online sports betting is one of the fastest-growing markets — and it's only going to get even more competitive. The best content may well be key to winning the pot.

  • For years, ESPN partnerships were the golden goose for FanDuel, DraftKings and their peers. Now they and Fanatics are competing for the same talent to take advantage of a shifting media landscape.
  • Sports betting companies have used partnerships with media outlets and personalities as a way to gain credibility and brand recognition with their target audiences.

What's happening: ESPN's decision to lend its name to a sportsbook committed it to the battle for content against the two sports betting leaders.

  • FanDuel has content partnerships with Spotify-owned The Ringer, former NFL Network host Kay Adams and CBS Sports' Jon Rothstein, among others, for its streaming TV network, FanDuel TV, which it launched in 2021.
  • ESPN got into the game last November with the launch of ESPN Bet, for which Penn Gaming is paying ESPN $2 billion for the next 10 years.

DraftKings has partnered with popular sports podcasts like The Dan LeBatard Show With Stugotz, Pablo Torre Finds Out, and All The Smoke and opened up its checkbook to buy gambling media company Vegas Stats & Information Network (VSiN) in 2021.

  • The company is expected to sign a "low eight figure" marketing deal with Barstool after the Super Bowl. Earlier this month, DraftKings hired ex-Amazon sports executive Marie Donoghue as chief growth officer.

Of note: Fanatics, another deep-pocketed newcomer to the gambling markets, has not yet put chips in the content basket.

State of play: The content play is working.

  • ESPN Bet took 8% of the market in November, according to gambling consulting firm Eilers & Krejcik. That was good enough for third place in its first month.
  • DraftKings and FanDuel accounted for 69% of the market, the lowest share in more than a year.
  • DraftKings has been catching up to FanDuel. During the prior three months, it closed the gap in market share from 36% to 38%.

What we're watching: The next test will come when North Carolina becomes the latest state to open up to online sports betting in March, and ESPN Bet and Fanatics debut at the same time as the established players.

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