Today’s launch of ESPN Bet is the latest challenge to the FanDuel-DraftKings duopoly that has so far dominated US online sports betting. 

The launch also marks Penn Entertainment’s second attempt at seizing significant market share through a media-led gaming partnership.

The operator divested its stake in previous sportsbook partner Barstool Sports after signing an initial $1.5bn licensing and partnership deal with ESPN owner Disney to launch the ESPN Bet brand. 

During Penn’s Q2 earnings call, chief executive Jay Snowden said ESPN Bet was aiming for a 20% share of the US sports betting market.

He also predicted the new sportsbook would provide an estimated $500m to $1bn+ in long-term EBITDA potential for Penn’s Interactive (online) division.

The new landscape: Failures and challengers

Whether these rosy predictions will come about remains uncertain. 

The US sports betting market has proved to be an enormously difficult nut to crack. 

Many companies have struggled with intense competition amid the high marketing spend required to effectively compete in a market dominated two historic DFS giants in FanDuel and DraftKings. 

In fact, 2022/2023 was characterised as much by market exits as by new launches. 

Failed ventures include CDI’s TwinsSpires, which has since become a B2B horse racing product, and Australian sportsbook PlayUp, which collapsed in a whirl of controversy

Flutter’s decision to close FOX Bet in July 2023 might stand as a warning of the potential pitfalls of a media-led gaming model, which so far only UK-facing Sky Bet has pulled off with serious success. 

Another land-based gaming giant, Wynn Resorts, radically scaled back its online ambitions in August when it announced it would be exiting eight of its 12 markets. 

Other failed books include MaximBet and Fubo Sportsbook, both of which closed their doors towards the end of 2022. Even Bally Bet was temporarily forced offline after admitting it chose the wrong sportsbook supplier.

Have market dynamics changed?

However, there are reasons to believe that new entrants, including Fanatics Sportsbook and ESPN Bet, might finally be in with a shot of changing this dynamic. 

The repeal of PASPA is now half a decade old, with many states having regulated gaming for almost as long.

More experienced bettors tend to be investigative with their betting activities by hunting out the best odds and products, and so we might see less loyalty to leading operators as new brands emerge.

Additionally, the years of enormous marketing spend are mostly behind us. Existing sportsbooks are under pressure to become profitable and have therefore reduced marketing spend, especially with fewer states regulating sports betting for the very first time.

The ubiquity of sports betting advertising over the last few years has also led to a backlash, with a proposal to ban sportsbook ads tabled in the US House of Representatives in February. 

The steady rise of British bookmaker bet365 in certain US states is also a sign that it might be possible to break into the market under exceptional circumstances.

One of those challengers, sports merchandise giant Fanatics, launched its online sportsbook in August. 

Led by former FanDuel CEO Matt King and boasting a billion-dollar budget, the venture is a sign that there continues to be serious efforts underway to disrupt the status quo. 

It should also not be forgotten that ESPN is by far the most popular sports media brand in the US, with more than 200 million monthly unique viewers. 

Penn counts on ESPN integration

Today’s launch will see ESPN Bet go live in 17 states, one more than was initially announced in August. 

These are: Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

Online casino, or iGaming, will be included in the six states where it is legal, through Penn’s Hollywood Casino brand, which is also available on mobile.

Existing Barstool Sportsbook customers will be prompted to download ESPN Bet, with their account information and wallet set to “seamlessly” transfer to the new app, according to Penn CEO Snowden.

The operator intends to steadily integrate the betting app with the wider ESPN brand and channels in the months ahead. 

The “highly synergistic strategic alliance” has seen the ESPN Bet already become the exclusive provider of odds for all editorial content across the sports media giant.

Penn will be also counting on the betting recommendations of ESPN’s on-air talent to drive online betting traffic in the long-term, as outlined by Snowden in the firm’s Q3 2023 earnings call.

However, the close integration of sports media with betting content has raised some ethical questions that have been picked over by regulators prior to the launch. 

Regulators challenge Penn-ESPN partnership

Earlier in the month, ESPN Bet’s leadership team, including Penn chief strategy officer Chris Rogers, were quizzed by Massachusetts regulators over its connection to its media partner. 

Regulators asked the operator to clarify the rules surrounding sports media figures when promoting the betting site, as well as its responsible gaming policies.

Despite the grilling, the regulator granted a licence to the sportsbook in time for the 14 November launch. 

However, ESPN has announced several new rules to shore up the wall between editorial and betting.

These include a bar on reporters placing bets on teams they cover, as well as a similar law surrounding employees betting on games they are working at. 

Further, individuals that receive confidential information cannot use it to place bets. Employees are also banned from delaying stories to impact sports betting lines.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing – except for Entain

Entain is swimming in turbulent waters according to Sky News scoop specialist Mark Kleinman, who wrote about the operator in his fortnightly column for City AM.

Kleinman points out that three years earlier, Entain had confidently turned down a lucrative takeover proposal from US joint venture partner MGM Resorts.

However, shareholders now doubt the wisdom of that decision as the company’s fortunes appear to be on the wane.

Adding to recent woes, a whopping £585m was earmarked by Entain’s board for a hefty potential fine in the UK over bribery allegations related to its legacy business in Turkey.

And the challenges don’t end there. The company shocked stakeholders with a concerning Q3 2023 forecast, predicting a decline in online gaming revenue for the period.

This revelation was felt on the stock market and caused a dent in Entain’s share price, culminating in a 14% dip over the last 12 months.

To rub salt in the wounds, shares of major rival Flutter Entertainment have surged by more than a third over the same timeframe.

The company’s leadership is now under pressure, writes Kleinman, with particular attention on CEO Jette Nygaard-Andersen.

Speculation is rife, with sources indicating that shareholders are closely inspecting Entain’s strategic direction, further intensifying scrutiny initiated by activist fund Eminence Capital.

Entain rejected MGM’s 2021 bid, which was equivalent to roughly £8bn. That decision looms large in hindsight, with that premium almost 95% more valuable than today’s stock.

A cautionary crypto tale

In a tale of caution for anyone banking on crypto, a senior manager at a UK investment firm found himself £300,000 poorer after falling victim to a cryptocurrency trading scam.

Matthew Thomas* (not his real name) might manage money for a living, but he was “blinded by greed, curiosity, and stubbornness” when he fell for the scam that played out over half a year.

In a story told by The Guardian this week, an acquaintance introduced Thomas to a seemingly legitimate US-based crypto trading app.

He began trading, and sure enough, the profits rolled in on a daily basis.

Soon, Thomas qualified for a crypto “airdrop”, a marketing strategy offering a chance to access bonus coins. But the catch? He had to maintain a hefty balance on the app.

Despite growing suspicions, the allure of big returns kept Thomas interested. But as his investment grew, so did the stakes.

Thomas borrowed £60,000 against his own mortgage and even loaned £20,000 from his employer when the scammers demanded more money.

Scammers moved money directly from his bank account, with one “airdrop” ploy leading to another.

Eventually, after depositing more money in a bid to unfreeze his funds, Thomas knew the game was up.

He eventually reported the scam to various authorities, including the FBI in the US and the National Crime Agency in the UK.

A no-nonsense statement from the Financial Conduct Authority won’t have provided much consolidation for Matthew:

“We continue to remind people that purchasing crypto assets remains high-risk and that they should be prepared to lose all their money.”

Disney dives into sports betting – but at what cost?

Disney is making a high-stakes gamble on sports betting, according to a near-2,000 word long-read in The Wall Street Journal this week.

A company that once hesitated to touch the world of gambling recently penned a 10-year deal with Penn Entertainment to launch an ESPN-branded sportsbook in the US market.

This strategy hasn’t gone without its critics. Some Disney insiders are against the play, worried that the likes of Elsa and Donald Duck will be tarnished by association. Only a year ago, one major investor hinted they might bail if Disney cozied up to the betting industry.

But for the powers that be, including ESPN’s Jimmy Pitaro and Disney’s Bob Iger, the allure of attracting younger sports fans and a ginormous $1.5bn fee from Penn proved irresistible.

With online sports gambling raking in $7.6bn last year and projections hitting $11.8bn for next, would Disney regret ignoring its piece of the pie?

The problem remains that Disney’s fairy-tale reputation could be in for a twist.

The WSJ article reveals concerns from Disney stakeholders including chief of corporate social responsibility Jenny Cohen and investment behemoth BlackRock.

Readers are strongly advised to seek out the piece in their own time. It is worth it for the artwork alone!

In the immortal words of Sun Tzu: “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.” In the vast expanse of the digital universe, where anarchy seems to reign supreme, these words resonate like a clarion call.

We are caught in the swirling vortex of the streaming wars, a cataclysmic clash of titans and underdogs, waged on the battlefield of viewer engagement and revenue shares.

Inspired by the critically acclaimed episode of South Park, Streaming Wars, I ask you – is this the dawn of a new era or merely the harbinger of digital annihilation?

Let’s set the stage with the latest gladiator to enter the arena – Kick. A new streaming platform that is as audacious as its name suggests.

But what does Kick’s emergence mean for the once peaceful kingdom of Twitch? Let’s arm ourselves with facts and dissect this battle for supremacy.

The streaming wars

For those familiar with that South Park episode, the uncanny parallels between fiction and reality are as striking as they are humorous.

In the episode, we witness an outrageous exaggeration of our favourite characters embroiled in the melee of streaming platforms, each vying for the viewer’s attention.

The episode astutely dissects the intricacies of the streaming industry, leaving the audience to contemplate the absurdities and conflicts inherent in this digital frontier.

Drawing from the South Park allegory, it isn’t hard to see Twitch as the established yet complacent giant, akin to the likes of Netflix or Hulu.

Twitch’s dominance in the streaming market is as unchallenged as the major players in the South Park episode.

On the other hand, Kick, the audacious newcomer, mirrors the guile and boldness of the fictional upstarts, represented by platforms like Disney+ and Apple TV.

Kick, with its disruptive business model and daring tactics, embodies the maverick spirit that is often the catalyst for industry shake-ups.

As we dive deeper into this modern-day fable, let us not lose sight of the critical question posed by the South Park episode: in the grand scheme of the streaming wars, is the viewer truly the king, or merely a pawn caught in the crossfire?

The answer, as we navigate the tumultuous tides of the Twitch vs. Kick saga, could very well determine the future of the digital landscape.

A new challenger approaches: Kick vs. Twitch

Streaming, for years, has been a monopoly lorded over by Twitch. The king sat comfortably on his throne, offering a modest 50/50 revenue split to his loyal subjects.

But the arrival of Kick, a scrappy underdog, has sent tremors through the kingdom. Armed with an unprecedented 95/5 revenue split in favour of streamers, Kick is a formidable adversary.

But is this a mere tempest in a teacup, or are we witnessing a seismic shift in the power dynamics of the streaming universe?

Dual allegiances: The Twitch-Kick dilemma

Is simulcasting on Twitch and Kick the secret strategy to emerge victorious in these streaming wars?

While Twitch fortifies its walls with restrictions for its Partner Program members, Kick opens its gates wide, welcoming all with open arms.

For seasoned warriors of the streaming world, this choice is far from straightforward. It demands careful evaluation of objectives, audience preferences, and long-term survival strategies.

In a high-stakes move, Kick has signed a whopping $100m contract with popular streamer xQc. This is akin to the mega-deals seen in elite football, such as Lionel Messi’s contract with PSG.

The battle of the audiences: niche or mainstream?

Understanding the demographics of these platforms is akin to unraveling the strategies of warring factions.

Twitch commands a vast army, boasting of millions of dedicated users. Kick, on the other hand, caters to a more mature audience, a niche group that often feels marginalised on mainstream platforms.

Can Kick exploit this gap and solidify its position, or will it crumble under the might of Twitch’s numbers?

Kick, although fostering impressive growth rates, remains leagues away from Twitch’s massive user base.

According to recent stats from June 2023, Twitch continues to dominate the streaming sector with the most-watched channels amassing an impressive 17.99 million hours watched. This figure is an astonishing 130% more than Twitch’s nearest competitor.

Moreover, Twitch streamers continue to dominate rankings, with well-established personalities such as tarik and xQc, even though the latter migrated to Kick mid-month, bringing in significant viewership.

Despite Kick’s promising ascent, it currently lacks the scale of Twitch’s established, loyal audience.

Furthermore, the departure of prominent streamers like xQc and Amouranth from Twitch to Kick, while impactful, has not significantly dented Twitch’s dominance.

Therefore, even as Kick succeeds in appealing to a mature, niche audience, it remains considerably distanced from Twitch’s stronghold in terms of user numbers.

Redefining the rules: Kick’s disruptive influence

Kick’s novel approach to streaming, its audacious contract dealings, and ethically questionable associations are not only creating shockwaves in the industry but also redefining the rules of engagement in the streaming wars.

This audacious newcomer is a testament to the ever-evolving dynamics of this battlefield. But with such disruptive tactics, does Kick set a dangerous precedent, or does it merely push boundaries to usher in a new era of digital innovation?

We’ll need to brace ourselves as we watch this saga unfold.

Dmitry Belianin is an experienced marketing strategist and leader in the sports betting industry. He has over 15 years of experience in marketing and gaming and a proven record in building global teams, growing profits, and implementing high-growth marketing, digital, and product development strategies within the biggest gaming companies.

No fairy-tale end for Disney’s metaverse division

Once upon a time in the not-so-magical kingdom of Disney, a small and plucky division was born, with dreams of exploring the great unknown – the mystical metaverse.

Alas, the kingdom’s rulers, faced with the need for some financial belt-tightening, have extinguished the tiny flame of this next-gen storytelling and consumer-experience team.

Indeed, the company’s dedicated metaverse division has been eliminated as reported in a Wall Street Journal exclusive last week.

At the helm of this valiant division stood Mike White, a knight of the realm with a background in Disney consumer products. His quest? To dive deep into Disney’s treasure trove of intellectual property and forge immersive tales in new technological realms. But, alas, the dream has crumbled.

Like the sad, squashed dreams of so many theme park churros, the entire 50-strong team now finds itself out of work. Yet, Sir Mike endures within the kingdom, with whispers on the wind about his mysterious new role.

In the before times, when Bob Chapek ruled as Disney’s chief executive, he welcomed Mike White to the land in February 2022 with high hopes. Chapek envisioned the metaverse as “the next great storytelling frontier” and tasked his new recruit to “create an entirely new paradigm for how audiences experience and engage with our stories.”

Yet, as the throne passed to Robert Iger in November, the sands of time wore on, and Disney’s metaverse strategy remained as elusive as the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

Sketches of grand plans hinted at wondrous applications in the realm of fantasy sports, enchanted theme park attractions, and other consumer delights.

But, as the sun sets on the once-promising metaverse division, we can only lament what could have been – a world where the dreams of Disney fans young and old could soar like a majestic, technologically advanced Dumbo.

The roulette record-breaker

Bloomberg set the scene beautifully this week in a long-read called: The gambler who beat roulette.

Your interest has surely been piqued, and rightly so.

This fascinating article tells the story of Niko Tosa, a tall and thin Croatian man with rimless glasses that seemingly defeated London’s Ritz Club casino in the early noughties.

As you know with hot copy, we usually try and rewrite a previously published story in our own words, as a mini tribute to our media colleagues if you will.

But honestly, nothing we could say would do this article justice, so we strongly suggest you click the link and have a read for yourselves. It also looks fantastic on the page. Enjoy!

High stakes politics

The gambling sector has bet big on MPs, having increased their lobbying spend tenfold over five years, as revealed this week by The Guardian’s detective work.

Public records show that many Labour and Conservative MPs have had their pockets lined with corporate treats worth thousands of pounds, all thanks to some of the nation’s most extravagant wager-wizards.

The news comes just days after Conservative MP Scott Benton was caught on camera offering to break parliamentary rules to further the interests of gambling industry investors.

Plenty of cash has been splashed, mainly on sports tickets for MPs, and these numbers are likely just the tip of the iceberg according to The Guardian as gifts under £300 fly under the radar.

This cash-crazed bonanza has some parliamentary peeps worried about the growing influence of the industry.

Carolyn Harris, Labour MP for Swansea East and a crusader for gambling reform, points out that the industry’s deep pockets are painfully obvious around parliament.

According to Harris, a trip to the bar will likely have you bumping into someone from the gambling world, buying drinks for everyone.

She said they persuade MPs with exclusive invites to events like the Brit Awards or Manchester United matches.

Ultimately, she says, the industry is scared of regulation. And with the white paper review set to be published in the coming days, who can blame them?

Crouchy hiding in plain sight

In October, the UK’s advertising regulator clamped down on gambling marketing by banning the use of role models and celebrities with a particular appeal to under-18s.

This week, The Guardian shone a light on the questionable interpretation of those rules by some operators that have splashed the cash on their World Cup campaigns.

The paper points out that former footballers Peter Crouch and Robbie Keane have starred in ads this month for Paddy Power and Betway, while their former manager Harry Redknapp is also promoting BetVictor’s sportsbook during the winter tournament in Qatar.

The ban – implemented by the Advertising Standards Authority on 1 October – specifically includes footballers at top clubs.

The guidelines do say that former players or managers are less likely to appeal to young people, however. Keane, for example, is 42 and scored for the Republic of Ireland at the 2002 World Cup in Japan and Korea. That was 20 years ago now.

Redknapp, meanwhile, is 75. He managed West Ham, Portsmouth and Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League and even went on to win I’m a Celebrity …Get Me Out of Here! In 2018.

Crouch is the most likely of the three to fall foul of the ad restrictions. He is the youngest of the trio at 41 and was still playing in the Premier League in 2019. Since then, he has hosted a hugely popular self-titled podcast that is still running and regularly tops the charts in the UK.

Paddy Power parent company Flutter Entertainment told The Guardian: “We work very hard to ensure we comply with all applicable regulations around the use of celebrities, and we firmly believe we lead the way on safer gambling. We hope the country can enjoy our advert in the spirit it is intended.”

Crouch features on a Paddy Power-backed Christmas parody album called Crouchy Conducts the Classics. The profits will be donated to the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall.

BetVictor told the paper its campaign complied with all relevant regulations.

It could happen to anyone

Guardian columnist Hannah Jane Parkinson this week confessed how she lost £40,000 to gambling addiction.

Parkinson, a well-known reporter in the UK, explained how she “didn’t see it coming” and even now she still winces at the word addiction, “though that is plainly what it is”.

She wrote: “I really wish there had been a warning that gambling was addictive,” I joked to a friend, though neither of us was laughing – at that point I was genuinely worried about paying rent and bills. I had lost all of my savings. I’d ‘spent’ an entire book advance.”

Parkinson said that like many other people, she had imagined gambling as the preserve of “bored middle-aged men in rundown high-street shops”, until she realised that “nowadays you can bankrupt yourself via an app on a mobile phone, or a never-closed browser tab”.

The onset of the pandemic marked the start of Parkinson’s gambling addiction when there “was nothing to do”.

However, she also linked her problematic betting behaviour to her diagnoses of bipolar disorder and ADHD, highlighting that multiple studies have established a connection.

According to a Cambridge University study, Parkinson wrote, one in 10 people with bipolar disorder develop moderate to severe problems with gambling.

She recalled how she had tried to quit many times. She had used the self-exclusion function of 16 different online bookmakers.

“When I blocked myself from the bigger sites, I would then use even dodgier outfits: less attractive odds, glitchy websites, opaque terms and conditions,” she explained.

“At one point, in true addict style, I roped family into it. I ended up lying to my mother and sister to borrow their bank cards to set up new accounts. (I transferred money to them, so I was still gambling with my own money and not theirs, which was at least something.)

“I had multiple identities on multiple websites. I was three different people.”

Eventually, Parkinson said, she was contacted by the responsible gambling teams of some betting companies, but not by all.

“I lied to them about my income and savings, and how much I could afford to lose. One time I said I had inherited a windfall. Another time I said I earned £30k more than I do.

“They didn’t check, but if they had, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have been furious rather than grateful.”

Lastly, she confessed she is still to overcome her addiction: “I’ve written here mostly in the past tense. But the truth is I decided to write this piece because I am still gambling, and I considered that this might be the one thing that could stop me.

“Because, though I currently have the very real and justified worries that I will lose my job, friends and home, I also have, as I type this, one eye on my phone checking for results.”

Disney to stop taking the Mickey on sports betting

Following the announcement that former Disney CEO Bob Iger would return to the role – as former CEO Bob Chapek stands down – Business Insider ran a piece this week on three major changes investors can expect from the company under Iger’s leadership.

Perhaps most interestingly, Iger’s return has reignited discussions around the ESPN owner’s possible foray into the world of sports betting.

Industry figures have been looking to Disney as one of the major companies currently outside the betting sector that could shake things up in highly competitive US markets, where Flutter Entertainment-owned FanDuel currently rules the roost.

After a great deal of to-ing and fro-ing around the issue over the past year or so, investors now expect Iger’s return to the helm of Disney to bring with it some additional clarity on the firm’s intentions in the betting sector.

While the business currently holds partnerships with both DraftKings and Caesars Entertainment, it has yet to make sports betting a fixture in its live sports broadcasts and talk shows.

Disney’s so-far cautious approach to the sector is no coincidence given its family-friendly, globally recognised brand.

“We had some concerns as a company about our ability to get in it without having a brand withdrawal,” former CEO Chapek said in 2021. 

“But I can tell you that given all the research that we’ve done recently that is not the case. It actually strengthens the brand of ESPN when you have a betting component, and it has no impact on the Disney brand.”

As quoted in Insider’s article, gambling industry investor Chris Grove thinks the firm’s reluctant approach to betting in recent years could have cost the company big time.

“Chapek’s tenure was marked by what can only be described as a very expensive stasis on the sports betting opportunity,” Grove said. 

“You could argue that Disney lost out on hundreds of millions, if not billions, in sports betting dollars thanks to Chapek’s strategy.”

Now, a return to the conversational fore for sports betting could spell good news for investors. Bank of America analysts previously listed the addition of betting to ESPN’s revenue generators as one of five potential catalysts for a new strategic direction for the business.

Grove concluded that Iger’s return “could generate enough momentum to get past whatever has kept Disney stuck to date on striking a big sports betting deal.”

There’s something for investors to get animated about.

Shares in DraftKings rose by as much as 12.8% in after-hours trading yesterday (6 October) after Bloomberg News reported the operator may be approaching a major sports betting partnership with Disney-owned ESPN.

According to the report citing people familiar with the matter, the two firms are nearing a deal which would allow the sports broadcaster to capitalise on the rapidly growing US sports betting market.

ESPN – which already holds a 4% stake in DraftKings and is the operator’s third-largest stakeholder – has held integration agreements with both DraftKings and Caesars since September 2020.

The broadcasting giant has long been looking for ways into the sports betting industry, sparking several rumours about the different ways it could approach the market.

In September, Disney CEO Bob Chapek told Bloomberg that sports betting is a constant request among the firm’s under-35 sports-loving audience, and that the firm was “working very hard” on the development of a sports betting app.

Industry consensus, however, has been that entering the space via a partnership such as the one suggested with DraftKings is much more likely than ESPN becoming an operator itself, with Acies Investments co-founding partner Chris Grove describing the brand developing its own sportsbook as the least likely of all the possible market entry routes.

“No one I talk to has seen any meaningful footprints of Disney developing this kind of app,” Grove said at the time and pointed out that there has not been any visible related hiring or M&A activity.

In January, Disney revealed that it was recruiting for a New York-based senior sports betting manager to work for its ESPN subsidiary. The job description said the successful applicant would be responsible for the day-to-day partner management of betting and licensing deals for ESPN.

The individual would also be expected to act as the go-to project manager for existing and new partnerships while overseeing key external relationships with betting partners.

Given that description and the latest rumours around a major deal with DraftKings, it seems a broad-ranging brand partnership between ESPN and an established operator is by far the likeliest way to go for the broadcaster’s entry into the sports betting sector.

Indeed, last month Disney CEO Chapek told CNBC that the firm would never take bets itself, but that it would aim to provide sports fans with more “frictionless sports betting potential”.

The deal could follow a similar structure to one struck in September by DraftKings, which saw the operator selected as the sponsor and exclusive pre-game and in-play odds provider of Thursday Night Football (TNF) on Amazon’s Prime Video.

The multi-year collaboration sees DraftKings deliver pre-game content and unique betting offers every Thursday throughout the NFL season.

As part of the agreement, TNF will also feature DraftKings integrations in the live pre-game, including odds and additional sports betting insights, while the firms are also collaborating on TNF-themed offerings including same-game parlays, made available on the DraftKings Sportsbook app.

ESPN has agreed a multi-year contract with former Yahoo! Sports presenter Liz Loza, who will join the organisation as a fantasy and sports betting analyst.

Loza will become a regular contributor to the network focusing on fantasy rankings, developing weekly columns and picks, and appearing on shows including Fantasy Football Now, Fantasy Focus Football and Daily Wager.

She will make her debut on the network today (10 August) and join the team during the ESPN Fantasy Marathon, with appearances on Fantasy Football Now and the Fantasy Football Draft on 15 and 16 August, respectively.

Loza will then make her debut appearance on Daily Wager during the upcoming football season, which begins in September.

“I am thrilled to join ESPN’s best-in-class team of fantasy and betting analysts,” Loza said.

“Collectively collaborating and creating content with this esteemed group – and for such an expansive and loyal fanbase – is an absolute honour. Be warned that I’m buying the dip on Cam Akers, and am always ready to bet on an underdog!”

Unbelievably excited and READY to join the absolutely 🔥 team at @ESPNFantasy.

Thank you for all of the support and well wishes. Now let’s go WIN BIG. 🏆

— Liz Loza (@LizLoza_FF) August 10, 2022

In her previous role at Yahoo! Sports, Loza worked on a variety of fantasy football-related content including Fantasy Football Live, for several seasons.

She also co-hosted Ekeler’s Edge with Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, in addition to presenting coverage of the Super Bowl LVI earlier this year.

Disney-owned ESPN has long been touted as a possible disruptor in the US sports betting industry.

In February, it was revealed the business was recruiting for a New York-based senior sports betting manager, responsible for the day-to-day partner management of betting and licensing deals for ESPN.

Prior to that in November, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek said the firm was “aggressively pursuing” building a bigger presence in online sports betting via the ESPN brand.

In the bleak (crypto) midwinter

CNN revealed this week that cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase is laying off some 18% of its workforce, representing around 1,000 of its more than 4,900 employees at present.

Crypto markets have suffered a particularly tough few weeks, with the price of bitcoin tumbling from over $30,000 on 6 June to little over $20,000 today.

Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong said in an open letter that the firm’s decision to cut staff was made to ensure the business “stays healthy during this economic downturn,” which he warned could extend beyond the current bear market.

“We appear to be entering a recession after a 10-plus year economic boom,” he said. “A recession could lead to another crypto winter, and could last for an extended period.”

Coinbase itself has not been immune to the effects of the economic downturn, either. The firm’s share price has taken a catastrophic fall over the past six months or so, from a 52-week high of $368.90, to just $51.05 today.

This, CNN said, was the result of investors continuing to sell off crypto, bailing out of risky assets as they expect sharp increases in interest rates to come their way.

Armstrong said in his letter that the firm “grew too quickly,” since listing on the Nasdaq last year, and that “in this case it is now clear to me that we over-hired.”

If the warning signs are anything to go by, crypto investors may want to prepare themselves for a long, cold winter.

Disney taking the Mickey on sports betting

Investment magazine Seeking Alpha published a story on one of the highest-profile non-endemic businesses to have expressed an interest in entering the gaming sector; Disney.

Specifically, the author asked: “Why is its ESPN unit, four years into the legalisation of sports betting, still waffling around with neither its own betting platform, or one launched in partnership with an existing online betting giant? 

“Who was fast asleep at the ESPN switch when the Supreme Court ruling opened the doors wide to legal sports betting in May of 2018?”

A lack of commentary on the sports betting question in Disney’s latest earnings call was, according to the author, “a message to shareholders by the silence of its leadership.”

The opportunity for driving sports betting revenue from ESPN’s 76 million-strong viewership is too good to have passed up, author Howard Jay Klein argued, especially given its ability to advertise to the audience it has already amassed – in stark contrast to the big US players currently blowing hundreds of millions on costly marketing campaigns.

He then compared ESPN with Barstool Sports to show what an early entry into the betting market could have looked like for Disney.

“Note that Penn National Gaming recognised the value of a sports-crazy audience base by their acquisition of 38% of Barstool Sports for $163m largely due to its reach of 55 million online TV ‘stoolies’,” he said.

“On average, Penn’s promotional and media costs have run lower than the leaders. They have decided not to chase business with excessive dollars but be content to get into black numbers as a priority over empty calorie volume. They have made the right call here.”

Despite Penn’s success, it still remains to be seen whether Disney will get animated again about sports betting.

FanDuel staying out of college

FanDuel made a splash in the Wall Street Journal this week, as the paper published a story on some of the challenges faced by the firm’s chief executive, Amy Howe.

Namely, it explored how she must “satisfy a number of constituents: gamblers and sports fans, sports leagues, government regulators and investors looking for returns.”

Another significant part of Howe’s mission at FanDuel is to operate the business in the most responsible way. As part of that, she was adamant that “we don’t want the FanDuel brand associated with college campuses.”

College sports sponsorships have become increasingly common among sports betting firms, which are exploring all possible avenues to help them carve out market share in the sector.

As the WSJ pointed out, though, young people are at higher risk for gambling addiction according to the National Council on Problem Gambling, and attempts to put a firm’s betting brand in front of as many college student eyeballs as possible is therefore more fraught than it may first appear.

According to the piece, FanDuel is also re-evaluating terms used in advertising promotions such as “risk free”, to assess whether they are a responsible way of marketing its products.

“I certainly feel a huge sense of obligation,” Howe said.