Disney CEO Bob Chapek said sports betting is a reason for keeping the ESPN brand, as the company works “very hard” on a wagering app. According to the executive, the ESPN sports networks are critical to his overall vision of the company, which involves more direct connections to consumers, including gaming.
“Sports betting is a part of what our younger, say, under-35 sports audience is telling us they want as part of their sports lifestyle,” Chapek said in an interview at Disney’s D23 fan event in Anaheim, California, according to Bloomberg. Asked if the company was developing an ESPN sports betting app, Chapek said the company is “working very hard on that.”
ESPN wagering-focused show Daily Wager
While the confirmation of Disney working on an ESPN sports betting app implies a significant development for the conglomerate’s plans for the vertical, no timeline yet has been provided for the product’s rollout nor specifics about its features have been released. The app would build on Disney’s existing efforts in the sports gaming landscape, including an ESPN YouTube channel launched in 2020 dedicated to wagering content.
Additionally, ESPN announced last week it would be expanding its sports betting content with a variety of new shows, updated roles, and more content with in-depth analysis and coverage during the new football season. This is in line with recent statements from president Jimmy Pitaro, who described sports wagering as a “must-have” for the brand.
No plans to spin off ESPN
ESPN has been a focus of investors as of late, after Dan Loeb of Third Point Capital –which has a stake in the conglomerate– sent a letter to Chapek suggesting he spin the sports channels off to shareholders to better highlight their value. Loeb had argued that the move would give ESPN greater flexibility to pursue business initiatives that may be more difficult as part of Disney – such as sports betting.
According to Disney’s CEO, he’s received as many as 100 inquiries from parties interested in the business, which Chapek sees as underscoring its worth. But a spin off is not part of his plans, and on Sunday, Loeb tweeted that he now has a better understanding of ESPN’s growth plans and is no longer pressing for a divestiture.
The Disney CEO said he has a vision for Disney that includes more opportunities to connect with consumers, through what he described as a “lifestyle brand.” He discussed these plans at length during the three-day D23 event, outlining the key points of his roadmap.
Chapek’s vision for Disney would see the company harnessing data from theme park visits, cruise line trips and viewership of online TV. This would be used to create new opportunities for fans to shop and watch programming tailored specifically for them, including content from the company’s Marvel and Lucasfilm studios.
At the event, Disney’s Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy further confirmed to media that the conglomerate doesn’t have immediate plans to spin off ESPN, stating the company likes “the hand we have.” According to McCarthy, the brand is “fully integrated” into how Disney thinks about delivering entertainment and content to customers.