Disney BetESPN Plans Could Stoke Rush Street Interactive Rumors, Says Analyst

Posted on: November 16, 2021, 10:45h. 

Last updated on: November 16, 2021, 02:03h.

It’s widely known the Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) wants to leverage its ESPN unit to establish prominence in the online sports betting (OSB) space. It’s speculated that those ambitions could lead the entertainment giant to mull a takeover of PointsBet (OTC:PBTHF) or Rush Street Interactive (NYSE:RSI), according to an analyst.

ESPN sportsbook
The Daily Wager analysts featured above. An ESPN sportsbook product could compel Disney to make an acquisition. It’d also be a drag on DraftKings and FanDuel. (Image: ESPN)

On the company’s fiscal fourth-quarter earnings conference call last week, Disney CEO Bob Chapek directly discussed the company’s interest in sports wagering. He noted such a foray is unlikely to harm the revered Disney brand. Rather, it could be an assistant to the ESPN brand.

Disney has yet to firmly commit to an ESPN wagering mobile app or a BetESPN sportsbook concept. Nor has the company clarified if its approach to sports betting will come in a direct or indirect fashion.

If ESPN does pursue a sportsbook, it could be a positive for Rush Street Interactive and drag on DraftKings (NASDAQ:DKNG), says Roth Capital analyst Edward Engel. ESPN has separate, multi-year accords with Caesars Entertainment (NASDAQ:CZR) and DraftKings.

For ESPN, Market Access Mandatory

Currently, ESPN doesn’t possess sportsbook licenses, and cobbling together a portfolio of those permits could take time, meaning it’s more efficient for Disney to acquire an established operator. Engel says that’s a move the company could consider.

Market access is a key deterrent for ESPN expanding into OSB. In many OSB markets, including New York and Connecticut, the limited number of licenses are already taken,” says the Roth Capital analyst. “For a BetESPN product to achieve scale, it would need to acquire an incumbent. The most likely targets are RSI and PointsBet.”

While the price tag for RSI would be higher, given its larger market capitalization, Disney can easily digest that potential target. It makes for a more logical candidate for the ESPN parent, because it has market access in 20 states, compared to 16 for Australia’s PointsBet. RSI’s roster of states includes Arizona, Connecticut, and Virginia. PointsBet isn’t operational in those locations.

If Disney is serious about buying RSI, and that remains to be seen, it might need to act swiftly, because the worst-kept secret in the sports wagering industry is that RSI is a takeover target. As just one example, it’s believed the operator recently held acquisition talks with Fanatics.

Bad News for DraftKings, FanDuel

A BetESPN sportsbook could command at least 10 percent market share, pilfering customers from DraftKings and FanDuel along the way, notes Engel. Plus, Disney has the cash to spend on expanding its sports wagering footprint.

“Meanwhile, Disney offers the balance sheet needed to spend billions on customer acquisition. We believe share gains from BetESPN would push DraftKings’ market share toward the low end of management’s 15 percent to 25 percent long-term targets,” said the analyst.

Engel has been covering DraftKings for just over a month and during that time he initiated coverage with a “sell” rating and a $41 price target. The latter was later pared to $39 and is now down to $34, due in part to the specter of ESPN potentially encroaching upon the operator’s territory.