Media Players Going All in on Sports Gambling Frenzy

Chips_betting_comp - iStock - H 2019

As the Supreme Court paves the way for legal betting, ESPN, Turner and more are targeting consumers of fantasy leagues with new programming.

"We don't want to be running books," said AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. "That's not our gig."

The executive was speaking at the NBA All-Star Tech Summit in February. He's not the only executive who has felt compelled to clarify his company's position on sports betting in the wake of the Supreme Court decision on May 14 to lift a federal ban. "We don't see ourselves taking bets," ESPN executive vp Justin Connolly tells The Hollywood Reporter. "That's not our territory."

But for media giants like ESPN and Turner, the potential is sizable — gambling is an opportunity to drive engagement and tune-in to the games for which these companies pay billions.

Turner Sports' Bleacher Report launched its betting vertical in 2018; the app stream has grown three times faster than users of the rest of the app as a whole. Peter Chernin's betting start-up The Action Network website and app is gearing up for that same audience.

Meanwhile, ESPN on March 11 launched The Daily Wager, a sports betting news and information show airing nightly at 6 on ESPNews and streamed live on the ESPN app. It's hosted by Doug Kezirian, the network's betting analyst who also hosts the Behind the Bets podcast. And Fox Sports 1 has Lock It In with "Cousin Sal" Iacono, of Jimmy Kimmel Live! fame.

Sports betting content has the potential to bring a far more enduring windfall than bookmaking. Long before the Supreme Court decision — which gives states the power to legalize sports betting — the stigma around gambling was dissipating; gone are the specters of busted kneecaps and broken lives.

Today, bettors are younger and wealthier — with an average household income close to $100,000 — than non-bettor sports fans in general, says a study by Ipsos and commissioned by Bleacher Report. In part, this is because of the rise of fantasy leagues, which served as a far more benign entree into sports wagers than back-alley bookies. Adds Connolly, "There is a generational difference around both the consumption of the content and also the exceptions of the sports-viewing experience."

The market also has driven the availability of sophisticated real-time analytics that give fans access to the same information as the pros. It's why Turner Sports in February announced a content partnership with Caesars Entertainment with plans for a Bleacher Report studio at the sports book in Caesars Palace Las Vegas.

"You can envision a scenario in the not-too-distant future where we'll have access to and information about sports betting not dissimilar to what Bloomberg might have in the financial markets," says Bleacher Report CEO Howard Mittman, adding that the company is developing several programs that will originate from the studio. Mittman adds, "We think there's a way to engage, inform and entertain fans simultaneously around this space."

This story also appears in the April 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.