ESPN Bet Unlikely to Threaten FanDuel, DraftKings Dominance, Says Analyst

Posted on: September 6, 2023, 05:59h. 

Last updated on: September 6, 2023, 06:57h.

In news last month that temporarily rocked the sports wagering landscape, Penn Entertainment (NASDAQ: PENN) announced it will pay $1.5 billion over 10 years to license the ESPN Bet brand. That’s while parting ways with Barstool Sports for a mere $1.

A promotion for ESPN programming. An analyst doubts ESPN Bet will adequately challenge FanDuel and DraftKings. (Image: ESPN)

While the deal is viewed as a potential watershed moment for Penn and ESPN, some analysts doubt the ability of the new sportsbook brand to mount a credible challenge to the massive market share held by Flutter Entertainment’s (OTC: PDYPY) FanDuel and DraftKings (NASDAQ: DKNG).

Sports betting has been legal in the U.S. for about five-and-a-half years, and it took less time than that for those operators to form what’s now essentially a duopoly, as they combine for approximately 75% of the market.

ARK Investment Management analyst Andrew Kim noted that FanDuel and DraftKings combined for nearly two-thirds share of the domestic online sports wagering market in June. That’s while Penn’s Barstool Sports captured just 4% of the market.

If PENN could not win market share with Barstool, how will it fare with ESPN, a legacy media property battling a multi-year decline in market share?,” opined the analyst. “Since 2010, when it peaked at 100 million, the number of ESPN cable subscribers has declined 3% at an annual rate to 71 million.”

It should be noted that Florida-based ARK is one of the largest institutional owners of DraftKings stock. But Kim didn’t overtly endorse the shares in his note.

Tough Road Ahead for ESPN Bet

The outlook for ESPN Bet is arguably mixed. On the more positive side of the ledger, the ESPN brand clearly resonates with sports fans, and the resources possessed by the network and parent company Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS) are substantial.

How that translates to attracting sports wagering clients remains to be seen. A recent survey by investment bank Jefferies indicates that a fair amount of sports bettors are likely to maintain multiple betting accounts. But a massive percentage are also inclined to remain loyal to books they’ve used for some time. That’s good news for the likes of DraftKings and FanDuel and potentially negative for smaller rivals.

“Respondents continued to demonstrate loyalty, as 89% of respondents indicated they are likely/very likely to continue betting with their current accounts, versus 83% in January,” observed Jefferies. “It is also worth noting that bettors are more likely to keep more than one sportsbook account, with 33% of the respondents indicating intent to maintain just one account (40% prior) and 39% intend to have two (37% prior), while those intending to keep three accounts grew to 20% from 15% in the last survey.”

Kim pointed out that there are avenues for Penn to benefit from the ESPN relationship.

Operated by PENN, ESPN Bet should benefit from exclusive promotions by ESPN, including programming, content, and talent,” added Kim.

ESPN Streaming Could Affect Betting

Penn’s deal with ESPN arrives when the latter is grappling with subscriber attrition as consumers move away from linear television — “cord cutting.” The network can offset those declines and engineering growth via its ESPN+ streaming service.

However, Disney recently announced price hikes for all of its streaming services, including ESPN+, and it remains to be seen if that’s a misstep at a time when consumers are increasingly cost-conscious.

Ark’s Kim is skeptical. “As it adapts to streaming, how will ESPN protect its content library and sports franchise from big tech? Specifically, how will it leverage its distribution and scale to market ESPN Bet/PENN and compete against the other sportsbook operators?

While no company has been able to penetrate the DraftKings-FanDuel duopoly, could ESPN Bet be the first? We would be surprised.”