August 15, 2023
Melinda Head


Disney enters dangerous but lucrative territory

In case you didn’t know, the majority owner of ESPN is the Walt Disney Company.  

Disney is a family-oriented brand that’s about to enter dangerous, but highly lucrative, new territory: sports betting.

I bet Walt Disney would turn over in his grave if he knew that the Company he founded is now in the business of gambling

Last week ESPN announced a 10-year deal with Penn Entertainment (a Company whose roots include gambling at casinos and horse-racing tracks) to create an online sports betting brand called ESPN Bet.

Penn is already in the online sports betting business. Now it can co-exist within the ESPN brand, making both stronger due to mutual synergies. ESPN will lend its name to Penn and market the hell out of ESPN Bet; for this, ESPN will receive the tidy sum of $1.5 billion over the next 10 years and the option to buy $500 million in Penn stock.

“So, Disney is expanding its brand from children’s entertainment to addictive, predatory industries. That’s a choice, I guess.” (Comment from a recent “The Verge” discussion)

When I hear the new (returning) Disney CEO say: “We’re not actually causing the bets to be made. We’re just enabling people to link to companies that do that”, my stomach turns. Mr. Iger, you are full of s**t. But then and again, I guess you’ll be lining your already bulging pockets if this partnership pays off.

 Returning Mouse House CEO, Bob Iger

It’s been 5 years since the U.S. Supreme Court stuck down the federal ban on sports betting, allowing individual states to legalize this practice within their borders. Mobile sports betting is now legal in 28 states.

FanDuel and DraftKings dominate the market, far outflanking all other players. ESPN Bet hopes to change that, even though Fox Bet just got out of the sports betting business with Flutter Entertainment, and ESPN’s new licensee, Penn Entertainment, only had a 2% share of the U.S. sports betting market in Q2. I guess you might say there’s no way to go but up.

Many people who bet on sports believe their wages on game outcomes and/or an almost limitless choice of game elements are informed by their own knowledge and skills, not as risky as relying on Lady Luck alone. This gives gamblers a false, but powerful sense of control, which can have dire consequences. Technology that allows in-the-moment one-click betting from anywhere has reduced the delay between risk and reward, which, in turn, increases the speed and frequency of online betting. Before you know it, you could be in deep trouble.

In addition, the heavy promotion of sports betting is normalizing online gambling. For example, ESPN reported that 50.4 million adults were expected to bet $16 billion on the last Super Bowl. This makes it seem like sports betting is commonplace.

“We consider it to be predatory advertising because (sports betting ads are) incessant and it glamorizes gambling.” (Felicia Grondin, New Jersey Council on Competitive Gambling).

Now, with ESPN Bet “in the house”, you can betcha the ESPN marketing machine will be running at full tilt. ESPN and Disney representatives say they’re just giving sports fans what they want, and what they’ll find legally or illegally elsewhere – so why not make it easier for everyone?

Now that the genie is out of the bottle, can you trust ESPN, the broadcaster? Can you trust your sports league? Do the words match-fixing, racketeering or corruption ring a bell?

All of these players were once diametrically opposed to gambling. Now they’re not. Why? Because it’s a gold rush out there and there are billions of dollars to be made, both for gamblers and shareholders. So much for the purity of sports. As they say, Money is King … even at the expense of Mickey.

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Next Tuesday, August 22nd, we provide an overview of the Women’s World Cup, which wraps up on August 20th.

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About the Author

A serial entrepreneur, Melinda is a sociologist and statistician who believes there is no currency with greater value than knowledge

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