NPR’s Sarah McCammon talks to Michael McCarthy, senior writer with Front Office Sports, about ESPN partnering with PENN Entertainment, a casino company, to create ESPN Bet.
SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:
Yet another company is getting in on the sports betting frenzy, and it’s a big one. The sports broadcaster ESPN is partnering with the casino company PENN Entertainment to create ESPN Bet. That deal could mean a big haul for ESPN – an estimated $2 billion over 10 years. For more on the deal, we are joined now by Mike McCarthy, a senior writer with Front Office Sports. Good morning, Mike.
MIKE MCCARTHY: Good morning.
MCCAMMON: OK, so as I understand it, ESPN has historically resisted any ties with gambling. What accounts for this change of heart?
MCCARTHY: Well, ESPN’s resistance really derived from its parent company, the Walt Disney Company. Disney always felt that sports betting would sully its family-friendly image. But as we all know, Disney needs money right now. They’re looking to cut $5.5 billion in costs, and they get $2 billion for basically doing nothing. They’re just licensing the most famous four letters in sports, ESPN to PENN National, and they don’t have to handle any of the operations.
MCCAMMON: So maybe they can come to terms with it. ESPN, of course, is a media outlet. How might this partnership with a gambling service change the network’s mission and focus?
MCCARTHY: Well, I think you’re going to see a lot more talk about parlays and odds and betting lines. ESPN has avoided that over the years, although many ESPN talents, like Scott Van Pelt, have treated sports betting with a wink and a nod. So you’re going to see heavy promotion of this new ESPN Bet platform, which launches in the fall. You’re going to see ESPN personalities appearing on ESPN Bet, and you’re going to see greater emphasis on gambling shows like Daily Wager.
MCCAMMON: I mean, it seems like there are some potential conflicts of interest here in terms of credibility. How is ESPN going to navigate that?
MCCARTHY: Well, you just put your finger on it. There’s conflicts and red flags galore here. The last two NBA drafts we’ve seen, NBA insiders like Shams Charania and ESPN’s own Adrian Wojnarowski actually move the betting odds with their reporting. So, you know, that’s a big potential conflict of interest. If Adam Schefter is out there tweeting information, will that move the betting lines and cause people to lose millions of dollars? The other big thing – and we’re about to report this today – is, will ESPN let its own employees use ESPN Bet? You know, that’s a question. Will on-air talent be able to use their own company-branded app? We’ll find out.
MCCAMMON: Can you give me a sense of how users will experience this? I mean, will they be directed to some kind of an app or – how will they interact with the ESPN betting operation?
MCCARTHY: Essentially, they’re just taking over the Barstool Sportsbook app. So it’d be the same platform, the same app, the same brick-and-mortar locations just rebranded ESPN Bet. I don’t know if you remember back in the old days, ESPN had something called ESPN Zone. It was a chain of basically restaurants with a lot of sports TVs. Well, now think of ESPN Zone with betting screens instead of TVs.
MCCAMMON: And quickly, you know, we touched on some of the credibility issues. What about just fans’ faith in the fairness of sports they see on ESPN? Is there a danger to that?
MCCARTHY: Yes. I think this whole thing, we’ve opened up a can of worms, I really do. It’s a Pandora’s box. You’re seeing more athletes getting nailed for gambling violations. You know, the more media companies like this lean into this whole idea of gambling, the more viewers are going to ask if they’re being sold a bill of goods.
MCCAMMON: But there is an awful lot of money on the table, huh?
MCCARTHY: That’s an awful lot of money – $150 million a year for licensing your name.
MCCAMMON: Mike McCarthy, senior writer for Front Office Sports. Thanks so much for your time, Mike.
MCCARTHY: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MATT LARGE’S “RHODES TO RICHES”)
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.