ESPN and Fox bet on sports betting. But will they all go in?

Sports televised recognized betting on games with a wink and a nod. Veteran sports presenter Brent Musburger was known to have used the term “my guys in the wilderness” – a reference to gamers in Las Vegas – signaling viewers that betting information was coming.

According to Musburger’s nephew, Brian Musburger, managing director of Las Vegas-based betting chain Vegas Stats & Information Network (VSiN), the broadcaster’s signature “you’re watching live” was a way of telling viewers to watch them. weather conditions in the front stadium by betting the over-under for the total number of points.

But he couldn’t use the actual point spreads, even when he sat next to odds creator Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder in the studio on CBS Sports’ pre-game show “NFL Live” in the 1970s and 1980s. The NFL didn’t want any part of the action that was a factor of interest in their games, and the league’s television partners respected it.

“They should say, ‘I think they can win by a touchdown or maybe win by a touchdown and field goal,” said Musburger.

Times have changed dramatically. Since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 paved the way for states to legalize sports betting, the practice has come out of the shadows and come into the limelight faster than anyone predicted.

Legal sports betting is now available in more than two dozen states and the District of Columbia, although some only allow in-person betting rather than online gaming. (California has yet to legalize sports betting.) More than half of the adult population in the United States is in a state where some forms of sports betting is legal. By 2023, that could reach more than 80% of adults in the United States, according to executives.

According to research firm H2 Gambling Capital, global digital betting revenues are expected to exceed $ 43 billion in 2025, up from $ 25.5 billion this year.

“What was perhaps considered a taboo subject historically is now widely or completely accepted in the sports media landscape,” said Freddie Longe, executive vice president and general manager of Endeavor-owned betting company IMG Arena. Group.

Endeavor, owner of the agency WME and the Ultimate Fighting Championship, announced last month its acquisition of the sports betting platform OpenBet for $ 1.2 billion in cash and stocks.

Sports leagues that once opposed the game as a threat to the integrity of the games are increasingly coming to terms with the practice.

The NFL, which has long moved away from betting, now has sports betting such as DraftKings, FanDuel and Caesars as official sponsors, a first for the league. The designation allows companies to use the league’s shield logo in their advertising, in a billion dollar deal.

And sports media companies – including ESPN, Fox Sports, CBS Sports, and Turner Sports – are looking for a share of the action.

“The fact that the leagues have all gotten into this industry also makes it easier for a rights holder like ESPN, Fox or TNT to do it because there is no backlash on the part of the league,” Eric said. Johnson, a former ESPN Executive Director and Faculty Director of the Center for Management of Enterprise at UCLA Anderson in Media, Entertainment, and Sports.

The deals with sports betting companies have led to a more open discussion of odds and betting information during sports programming and an influx of advertising dollars.

Lee Berke, chairman of consultancy firm LHB Sports, Media & Entertainment, said sports betting companies spend 80% of their revenue on marketing. Sports betting has exploded as an advertising category for rights holders NFL TV Fox, NBC, CBS and ESPN.

“Let’s just say our fans are really interested in sports betting,” said Bob Chapek, general manager of ESPN’s parent company, Walt Disney Co. last month. “Let’s say our partners with the leagues are interested in sport bets. We are therefore interested in sports betting.

Mentalities have changed.

Just two years ago Bob Iger, then CEO of Disney, distanced the company from betting by saying: to facilitate the game in any way, “although he noted that ESPN would include information related to the betting. game in its cover.

ESPN and Caesars Entertainment opened a 6,000 square foot studio at the Linq Hotel + Experience in Las Vegas in August 2020 to house the company’s sports betting programming, including “The Daily Wager.” ESPN has discussed licensing its brand for sports betting, according to a Wall Street Journal report.

Although ESPN, according to executives, has no plans to become a bookmaker and facilitate betting itself, it sees gambling coverage as an opportunity to better engage young audiences.

One of ESPN’s channels, ESPNews, has a constant stream of betting odds data on the side and bottom of the screen as it rebroadcasts news shows from the flagship network “SportsCenter” and ” Get Up “. When the recent Monday night soccer contest between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Las Vegas Raiders was delayed by weather, the company saw a spike in traffic for an ESPN + article exposing the odds for the game.

“The content space, for us, has been really compelling,” said Mike Morrison, ESPN’s vice president of sports betting and fantasy. “Betting absolutely has to be part of that storytelling and the content that we produce. “

Media companies have greeted the arrival of legalized gambling as a chance to improve ratings as the cord cut accelerates.

The rise of regulated play gives viewers a literal investment in the outcome of a game, even if their home team isn’t the one playing, said Abraham J. Wyner, faculty director at Wharton Sports Analytics and Business. University of Pennsylvania initiative. .

“I’ve always been a fan of my favorite teams, especially the Yankees, and I’m interested, but I’m not about to go watch the Red Sox-Rays if I’m not interested for betting or some other kind of interest in the outcome, ”Wyner said. “As people move further and further away from the actual gambling in their lives, betting is a great way to cultivate more interest and a deeper interest in broadcasting.”

Legal betting creates opportunities for television programming to serve potential punters, especially those who have found the idea of ​​using the local bookmaker to be unsavory.

“There are definitely more people who were reluctant to do something that was not considered legal,” said Brian Musburger. “Now there is this large population of mostly men who are embarrassed about not knowing how to read the information on the board of a Vegas bookie. We produce a lot of ‘Betting 101’ content to demystify the process without hurting the male ego.

Most media companies have yet to hit the nail on the head.

“The question is, are you actually going to become a bookmaker or are you just going to authorize your name? Said media analyst Rich Greenfield of LightShed Partners. “How well is it going to be integrated? “

Others have been more overt in their forays into the game, most notably Fox Corp. and its Fox Sports unit. CEO Lachlan Murdoch has strong ties to Britain and Australia, where sports betting has long been normalized.

The Fox Bet betting platform, which gambling company Stars Group and Fox Corp. launched as part of a partnership in 2019, is now available in Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The deal gave Fox a 4.99% stake in the U.S. company Stars Group, which is now owned by majority owner of games company FanDuel, Flutter.

Additionally, Fox this year acquired OutKick Media, the popular news and commentary resource for sports personality Clay Travis among sports bettors.

Media companies primarily want to target casual gamblers – those who are willing to spend $ 10 to $ 20 on a game – rather than frequent gamblers who make big, risky bets. Think of something more akin to the people who play “Clash of Clans” than the problem gamer character of Adam Sandler in “Uncut Gems”. Part of Fox’s strategy is to convert users of the free Fox Bet Super 6 app, which allows viewers to make game predictions for cash prizes – into real money bettors.

“We’re not necessarily looking to tackle hardcore early adopters,” said Edward Hartman, senior vice president of business development at Fox Corp. “The real opportunity we see is what we think is the most important part of the bell curve. – the mass adoption phase – that is, casual sports fans who love their teams and enjoy watching games and will have an occasional bet to enhance their enjoyment of a game.

There are limits to what media companies and advertisers can do. The NFL places strict limits on gambling ads during broadcasts. League leaders are hoping to avoid flooding viewers with too many gambling ads after seeing how betting-related marketing has reached saturation point in places like Britain.

Only the seven betting companies with NFL deals are allowed to advertise on professional football shows. The league allows six commercials per program: one per quarter and one during the pre-game and half-time.

While odds analysis can bring another level of sophistication to coverage, NFL executives are reluctant to have explicit references to the game on regular national live broadcasts. According to Christopher Halpin, director of strategy and growth for the NFL, research has indicated that the public does not want national shows to explicitly include gossip about gambling.

“Bettors say, ‘I don’t need to hear Jim Nantz and Tony Romo talk about sports betting,” said Halpin. “It’s inauthentic. It is not their domain.

Berke said that sports television which is embarking on streaming and multicasting of the same events provides an opportunity to serve the gambling audience without alienating fans who are less comfortable with the betting discussions.

“Overall you can see it sport by sport they are eager to integrate it in different ways or in particular provide alternative feeds that players can participate in,” said Berke. “But at the same time, they don’t want to cross the line and turn off families and turn off non-players and make quite a bet.”

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