Sports betting is now mandatory for ESPN, says company president Jimmy Pitaro

According to chairman Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN could be more involved in advancing sports betting. The executive discussed plans for the sport in a recent interview, describing it as a must for the broadcaster.

In a recent appearance on The Athletic’s Sports Media podcast, Pitaro said Disney’s consumer research pointed out that the company should capitalize on the sports betting boom. “It’s something we need to do,” he said. “It’s something our fans are expecting from us.”

As part of last week’s 50-minute interview, in which Pitaro also commented on ESPN’s interests in retaining the rights to the NBA, Formula 1 and the Big Ten, the executive said he sees the sports game as part of his company. “It’s not a ‘would be nice to have’, it’s pretty much at this point a ‘must have,'” he explained.

For Pitaro, this means ESPN must serve the sports fan “with what they’ve been waiting for” and take the friction out of the process. While he told The Athletic he couldn’t reveal the brand’s next move, he stated that ESPN has the opportunities “to partner with different people and be a little more aggressive in the sports betting space.”

However, it may not be a short-term plan. The company’s president admitted that ESPN “isn’t there yet”, instead opting to act thoughtfully. “We have to get this right,” Pitaro said. “We think this is a growth opportunity for us. We think we can potentially do more.”

His remarks follow extensive research not just on the ESPN brand, but at the Disney level. While it has been a common source of concern that increasingly aggressive brands in this space could damage their reputation, it appears that this would not be the case.

The transition to a more “aggressive” plan may not be as quick for ESPN. After all, the broadcaster and brand has been present in the odds and betting spaces “for some time”, according to Pitaro. From podcasts to segments on SportsCenter and exclusive sections on its website, as well as betting-focused shows like the Daily Wager, ESPN has become increasingly comfortable with sports betting.

Brands operating within the betting space are also familiar with ESPN. The company has a studio on the Vegas Strip in partnership with Caesars, and has inked deals with sports betting giant DraftKings. In the case of the latter, Disney even owns a 6% stake.

These are “link-out” agreements, where ESPN provides contextually relevant links to third-party websites that attempt to facilitate access to trusted sports betting sites.

ESPN also has an official list of odds, placing them on their nets. But in terms of how far the brand will go with this plan, that’s “to be determined,” Pitaro said. The brand is already doing this around gaming, including alternative streams that specifically focus on betting, but the exec believes they will be “doing more and more”.