Disney CEO Bob Chapek said in the company’s fourth-quarter earnings call that their research suggests the brand wouldn’t be tarnished if they coupled their ESPN products with gambling options.
“As we follow the consumer, we necessarily have to seriously consider getting into gambling in a bigger and bigger way,” said Chapek. “We’ve done substantial research in terms of the impact not only on the ESPN but the Disney brand changing perceptions of the acceptability of gambling. What we’re finding is that there’s a very significant insulation. Gambling does not have the [stigma] that it had 10-20 years ago. We had some concerns of the company about our ability to get in without having a brand withdrawal. I can tell you given all of the research that we’ve done recently that’s not the case. It actually strengthens the brand of ESPN when you have a betting component. It has no impact on the Disney brand.”
Chapek’s comments suggest brand image was the only concern holding Disney back from fully leveraging sports gambling as a revenue stream. If their internal research is as rock-solid as Chapek is suggesting, there’s nothing that will stop Disney from becoming a major player in betting.
That’s a warning signal for fuboTV. That company has been investing heavily in the gaming space, including the introduction of its first sportsbook product in Iowa. Yesterday, fuboTV announced their acquisition of an India-based AI company focused on sports analytics for the purpose of smart gambling. Fubo will have to move quickly to compete with Disney’s powerhouse resources when (not if) they decide to enter the sports gambling market.
“We do believe that sports betting is a very significant opportunity for the company. It is all driven by the consumer,” said Chapek. “It is driven by the consumer particularly the younger consumer that will replenish the sports fans over time. Their desire to have gambling as part of their sports experience. It is not necessarily a lean back. It is a little bit of a lean forward-type experience that they are looking for.”
Disney has used ESPN to extract value from cable companies and streaming services. Because of its sports rights, ESPN is a wildly expensive channel in any cable/streaming package, but carriers are reluctant to cut it because Disney can use the weight of its other networks (ABC, Disney Channel, FX) as leverage.
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