The Tennessee sports betting marketplace gained a national media giant this week, despite the overall number of licensees staying the same.
TV goliath ESPN launched its “ESPN Bet” brand in Tennessee on Tuesday, with the operator taking over the license formerly held by Barstool Sportsbook.
The new ESPN BET Tennessee site officially launched in the Volunteer State and 16 other states Tuesday afternoon, a result of a pact between ESPN and gaming giant PENN Entertainment, which is slated to last 10 years and have PENN pay ESPN $1.5 billion over the course of the contract. The deal between PENN Entertainment and ESPN also includes 31.8 million shares of PENN stock, according to a company press release and has several out clauses before the 10-year mark.
ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro spoke about the deal between PENN and the network shortly after it was announced in August, expressing confidence the network could gain market share in an industry largely dominated by DraftKings Sportsbook and FanDuel Sportsbook Tennessee.
"Our primary focus is always to serve sports fans and we know they want both betting content and the ability to place bets with less friction from within our products," Pitaro said in the company press release in August. "The strategy here is simple: to give fans what they've been requesting and expecting from ESPN."
ESPN’s existing sports betting program “Daily Wager” has already been rebranded to “ESPN BET Live,” serving as the first step in the company’s foray into sports betting in Tennessee and beyond. ESPN BET launched in Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.
What to Expect From ESPN BET Product
Tennessee betting apps customers that previously used Barstool Sportsbook will have to download the ESPN BET app to continue wagering the way they have in the past.
For Barstool Sportsbook users in Tennessee, they’ll still be able to log into the ESPN BET app using their existing login information from Barstool, with all account data transferred automatically between the two properties Tuesday.
How well ESPN BET fares from here is not known, though it’s worth noting Barstool Sportsbook launched in Tennessee in September 2021, giving the company two-plus years to build a following in the state. So far, it seems like interest in ESPN BET is high across the country, with the newest Volunteer State sports betting operator taking the No. 1 spot on the App Store on Wednesday morning.
What Experts Are Saying About ESPN BET
The biggest question surrounding the launch of ESPN BET for longtime sports business and sports betting insiders, such as Daniel McIntosh, who serves as a teaching associate professor at Arizona State University, is what kind of in-roads the Worldwide Leader can make in an already mature market.
McIntosh alluded to other recent sports betting startups, such as Fanatics Gaming, when discussing ESPN BET’s biggest hurdles out of the gate, noting how difficult it can be to catch up with established operators.
“For me, the big question will be market share gains. Will ESPN, which has massive awareness and a built-in user base, be able to convert users of other gaming platforms into ESPN Bet users?” McIntosh said. “Previous entrants have attempted to do this through large promotions and free bets that lead to losses but never turned into recurring usage and hence profit. Can ESPN avoid that fate? It'll likely depend on reducing frictions for users (e.g. a better user experience) or some other competitive differentiator. I don't see the pie growing much here. Instead, it'll be ‘can ESPN carve out a large slice?’”
McIntosh believes market disruptors like PENN Entertainment and ESPN BET will have to offer something extraordinary to make bettors want to jump ship from whatever their current operator of choice is, which could be a tall task for any entrant, regardless of their backstory.
“FanDuel and DraftKings obviously aren't just going to sit idle,” McIntosh said. “How they respond competitively will be interesting as we head into a huge betting season with NFL playoffs, NBA and hockey games.”
Brendan Bussmann, who serves as the managing partner of B Global, told BetTennessee.com that ESPN BET has solid potential to upend the sports betting marketplace, but patience will be key when assessing the initial success of the platform.
“You’ve got the leader in sports broadcasting that now has a sports betting platform in key states like Tennessee. Executed right, this could be a disruptor in the market, but this is not going to happen overnight,” Bussmann said. “This is about product and engagement.”
As ESPN BET gets off the ground, industry insiders are watching to see how well the Worldwide Leader can thread the needle between the company’s on-air product and their fledgling online sports betting enterprise.
“ESPN BET’s launch has been one of the elephants in the room as everyone anticipated the Mouse to jump in at some point since the repeal of PASPA over five years ago. Let’s see how big of a splash they can make,” Bussmann said. “The question will be if you can create a synergist approach between media and sports betting to enhance the experience.”