The sports media giant announced on Monday a pair of multi-year agreements that grant Caesars Entertainment and DraftKings exclusive marketing rights across its website, mobile app and the rest of the ESPN digital network. The two betting operators will provide advertisements that link directly back to their sports books, something ESPN has never done for gambling advertisers in the U.S.
The deals build off of pre-existing relationships that ESPN has shared with both companies. ESPN is also an equity owner of DraftKings, having acquired its 5.3 percent stake as part of Disney’s $71.3 billion acquisition of 21st Century Fox.
“We just felt that it was natural, given the demand around sports betting, to facilitate the link-out to sports betting apps off of our site,” said Mike Morrison, vice president of business development at ESPN.
There was more than $1.7 billion wagered at legal U.S. sports books in the month before the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Sharp Alpha Advisors, and the numbers are starting to tick back up as leagues resume and casinos reopen. Legal betting is currently live in 18 states, plus Washington D.C., with a handful of others expected to launch in the next year.
Sports media companies are quickly becoming a major beneficiary of the boon, as gambling operators look for ways to funnel new, sports-loving customers to their sites. In addition to ESPN’s deals with Caesars and DraftKings, CBS Sports has partnered with William Hill, NBC Sports with PointsBet, and Fox Sports launched Fox Bet through a partnership with the Stars Group.
It’s unclear exactly how these two deals are structured, but it’s fair to say that they won’t be as complex or intertwined as the NBC/PointsBet or the Fox/Stars tie-ups. Morrison declined to comment on the terms of the deal, or whether ESPN would be taking affiliate fees for customers referred directly from ESPN’s platforms.
Last year, Caesars and ESPN announced a sports betting content partnership that was ESPN’s first major push into gambling. Caesars, whose sports book operations are now run by William Hill, will continue to be the exclusive odds provider to ESPN, and they’ll continue collaborating through the Las Vegas studio they co-launched out of the Caesars-owned Linq Hotel & Casino.
In addition to the co-exclusive marketing across ESPN’s digital family, DraftKings will become ESPN’s exclusive daily fantasy sports advertiser. It will also have a presence on ESPN’s television programming, starting with daily fantasy segments on ESPN studio shows.
ESPN has provided link-outs to sports betting advertisers overseas. It’s also done similar integrated marketing with resale ticket marketplaces like Vivid Seats and StubHub.