Hot off the launch of ESPN Bet, Mike Morrison, vice-president of sports betting at ESPN, explains how sports betting’s biggest launch is set to upend the market – and what he thinks makes it the premier choice for sports fans.
When we first spoke with Morrison in August, he was adamant about ESPN Bet’s potential to be the best sportsbook on the market. At the time it had only been weeks since ESPN had clinched its $1.5bn (£1.18bn/€1.37bn) deal with Penn Entertainment, officially choosing the operator to manage the ESPN Bet sportsbook.
Just over three months later, ESPN Bet has burst onto the scene. With the launch being so highly anticipated, the best place to start is by establishing how it went.
“Really smooth,” according to Morrison. “We’re thrilled. Everything is working very well. Some of the early reviews we’ve seen are really good. Teams are energised and excited on both sides.”
The whirlwind saw ESPN Bet hit 17 US states on 14 November, which Morrison praises as “above expectations”.
“We moved pretty fast,” he explains. “We reached the agreement in August and three months later, we’re in the market with a new sportsbook, a new brand, a new experience for fans. A lot’s happened fairly quickly.”
With the launch now behind him, Morrison admits the mammoth opportunity presented here is not taken lightly. “As many famous people have said, pressure is a privilege. We absolutely feel that here.”
Will ESPN buckle under pressure?
It’s no overestimation to call ESPN Bet sports betting’s biggest launch. So, it’s fair to assume there’s a lot riding on its success.
“We’re surely in a position where we want to be very successful here,” Morrison asserts. “We are, by our natures, competitive and excited on high levels of achievement.
“You have a lot of what we’ll call Type-A personalities on both sides and we desire to be successful here.”
ESPN’s presence in the sports betting market stands out for more reasons than one. To no one’s surprise, ESPN Bet will rely on the existing trust in its brand – a household name trusted by millions.
“From our perspective, there’s great intention to be successful here,” Morrison continues. “And to get this right, we’re leaning into our brand, which is significant. There’s a huge amount of trust built up in that brand.”
On the operator side of things, Penn is also managing all market access and all negotiations for ESPN Bet. A responsible gaming initiative between ESPN and Penn was announced a few weeks ago, with Morrison revealing “there’s a lot of work involved that we’re going to be doing there. There’ll be a separate campaign attached to that.”
One of a kind
For ESPN Bet to continue to succeed, ESPN and Penn will make it a priority to take feedback aboard.
“We’re going to take a lot of feedback,” he explains. “We’re going to get a lot of feedback from our own organisation, from the marketplace, from lead partners, from fans, from people in the industry.
“All that feedback is incredibly important to us. We want to be responsive to that, and I think that is going to be a big part of how you see this evolve too.”
With so many other sportsbooks out there, however, what makes ESPN Bet the best choice for bettors? For Morrison, it’s simple – “It’s the first sportsbook designed for sports fans.
“We’re really looking for this experience to be best-in-class for sports fans.”
Morrison is tight-lipped on what exactly is upcoming on ESPN Bet for fans, as Penn is operating that side of the deal. But he takes pride in ESPN Bet’s integration efforts, which he says will create a one-of-a-kind experience for bettors.
“What I can say is that there are things we’re doing from an integration perspective on our platform; we’re bringing in assets to drive activity, drive promotion, integration with talent,” he explains. “The level of commitment and seamlessness we’re seeking between the ESPN platform and ESPN Bet platform is market leading.
“There isn’t any other scenario where you have a market-leading sports platform, where you get all your news and information and coverage of us, or watch live games and game content and then have that high-level connectivity with a sports betting app. Not in the US, right?”
A seamless transition
Even for the biggest sports media brand in the US, entering the sphere against the likes of DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM is a daunting prospect. So, what makes Morrison so sure of ESPN Bet’s continued success?
It’s what’s yet to come, he says. Together, ESPN and Penn will continue to build upon the capabilities within ESPN Bet.
“There are a lot of things in development that haven’t been announced yet,” he concedes. “That will prove that connectivity, that seamlessness. I think if we’re doing this well, it will be intuitive to fans.”
Among what’s to come is activity tracking and the ability to opt out. “All of this is in development,” Morrison assures.
As for the heart of the product, Morrison comes back to the unique attraction of ESPN Bet – what it presents for sports fans, not solely what it can offer sports bettors.
“As I’ve said before, we’re announcing this with sports fans in mind, not just sports bettors,” he says. “And I think that’s important.”