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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Sports media companies are leaning further into sports betting as more states legalize the practice and the NFL and college football seasons kick into gear.

Driving the news: ESPN has entered into separate agreements with Caesars Entertainment and DraftKings, both of which include exclusive link integrations (i.e. affiliate partnerships) across ESPN's digital platforms.

  • ESPN already publishes odds and betting analysis, so why not earn money if someone clicks out from one of those pages and places a bet? That's the thinking here.
  • For Caesars and DraftKings, those users will be arriving on their doorstep, ready to be converted into customers. And there's the added benefit of brand awareness, as millions of ESPN users routinely see their name and logo.

The state of play: Sports betting programming was once considered taboo for TV networks. Now, it's table-stakes for survival. And for digital outlets, there's a burgeoning opportunity to earn affiliate revenue from sportsbooks.

  • Take Action Network, for example. The three-year-old sports betting publisher earns a large chunk of its revenue by linking out to sportsbooks.
  • There's more to it than simply getting users to click on links, though. "In order for us to get compensated, the customer we drive to the sportsbook must deposit money with them," says Action Network CEO Patrick Keane.
  • "It's not too dissimilar from Wirecutter or any of those businesses. We use content and unique offers to send potential customers to sportsbooks and get paid if they convert."

Between the lines: Instead of getting paid to send their audience to existing sportsbooks, some media companies have created their own branded books.

  • Fox Bet, a partnership between Fox Sports (media) and The Stars Group (betting operator), launched last September.
  • Barstool Sportsbook, a result of Penn National Gaming (betting operator) acquiring a 36% stake in Barstool Sports (media), will launch in Pennsylvania this week.

What to watch: Football season is a peak time for sports betting, and volume is expected to be higher than usual this year with sports like basketball still in action due to the pandemic.

  • $668 million was wagered on sports in New Jersey last month, the highest-ever monthly total for any state — including Nevada.
  • That was driven by a full slate of NBA, NHL and MLB games. Add the NFL and college football to the mix, and September could be even higher.
  • "Football season for us is like holiday season for retail companies," DraftKings CEO Jason Robins tells Axios. "It's the time of year when everything seems to spike, both in terms of betting and fantasy sports."

The bottom line: Sports betting has created a new revenue stream for media outlets to tap into, and amid an industry-rattling pandemic, it has become an even more welcome opportunity for growth.

Go deeper: Media companies eye sportsbook partnerships to juice engagement (Axios)

Go deeper

Sep 13, 2021 - Economy & Business

WarnerMedia sells TMZ to Fox Entertainment

TMZ co-founder Harvey Levin. Photo: Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images

TMZ, the online tabloid co-founded and operated by Harvey Levin, has been sold to Fox Entertainment, in a deal reportedly valued around $50 million.

Why it matters: The deal points to Fox Corp.'s ambitions to include more entertainment programming across its digital and TV channels.

Sep 14, 2021 - Economy & Business

Scoop: Nexstar eyeing more small media acquisitions for digital content

Photo: Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Nexstar, the local broadcasting giant that recently bought The Hill for $130 million, is mounting an aggressive acquisition campaign, sources tell Axios.

Details: The company is going after smaller media companies that cover the three pillars of its content strategy: sports, news, and weather.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Bipartisan tributes flood in for "giant of the Senate" Bob Dole

Then-Vice President Joe Biden and former Sen. Bob Dole at an event put on by the World Food Program where he was awarded the first “McGovern-Dole Leadership Award” in December 2013. Photo: Douglas Graham/CQ Roll Call

Republican and Democratic politicians, including former Senate colleagues, are sharing condolences and memories commemorating the life of Bob Dole, who passed away at 98 on Sunday morning.

The big picture: Dole, the Republican presidential nominee in 1996, was the longest serving Republican leader in the Senate until 2018, when current Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell surpassed his record.