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Neither stated or implied is the knee-jerk woke-ism that pervades the entire Disney content and presentation agenda. That is not a discussion for this forum, as it speaks to a perceived universal bacillus that has infected the entire sector—beyond our focus here. It is difficult to quantify the extent to which the pc board of the company imposes conventional wisdom woke agendas to management and how it may impact real-world earnings. But viewing the board from its experience and skill sets brought to the table suggest that Loeb is tracking on target here.
Why Loeb is wrong about ESPN and sports betting ESPN, among the woke-ist of the Disney verticals, is the poster child in my view for the corporate failure too few investors are willing to see that has a history that began with the departure of the dynamic duo of Eisner and Katzenberg back in the day. These two had their successes and failures for certain.
But their singular focus on monetizing the foundational genius of Walt Disney has been unsurpassed by their successors. It has taken the geniuses of Pixar and the creativity of the legendary cartoonists of the comic book superhero genre to keep Disney stocked with viable content for many decades. Buying free agents as it were, instead of home grown all-stars, is part of the Disney style that may not continue to provide winners.
The massive blunder of Disney regarding sports betting began the day after the U. Supreme Court decision in May of opened the flood gates to legalization. It was clear that no one, repeat, no one, even the subsequent market share leaders of today who pounced first, had a better post position at the starting gate of sports betting than did ESPN. In , ESPN clocked 86m viewers down 2m from and part of a longer term decline that periodically popped north depending on the sports calendar or news events in that world.
By any measure, just after the court go-ahead, the market was wide open for battle. Right behind them were the major casino operators, already running live sports books. And behind them, an army of wannabes from the global operators diving headlong into the burgeoning U. What became clear was that if an entrant locked their efforts early into a partnership deal with sites that already had monster sports followings, they could buy in cheaper than the massive media spent it would take to establish a new brand.
By this year, they acquired it all. So they began cutting back on promotional expense, looking to become among the first of the sites to turn profitable. But what happened overall was that before you could find footing in any existing or new state, you were facing a massive deluge of promotional spend by the market leaders running into the multi-billions. Later entrants had little choice but to open their fiscal veins and pour out the promo and media blood money, build sponsorship deals with leagues and players.
And before you could say touchdown, there were, and still are, 14 distinct platforms currently crowding the sports betting field. Had the ESPN platform been locked and loaded as we noted above right from legalization, its 86m viewer base could have produced a first tier competitor to both Fan Duel and Draft Kings. Thus far, not one of these platforms is in profit yet primarily due to the massive cost of promos and media. Penn has learned that the golden demo they bought in Barstool is nice but that on a practical basis, the crossover from stoolies to regular sports bettors falls below expectations.
The top tier platforms earnings releases continue to contain assurances that their promo spend is beginning to shrink, either by design or necessity. Some are forecasting moving into profit before the end of Time will tell. The platforms have become addicted to promos and media—all chasing the same potential customer base as more states legalize.
The legacy hold percentage of all sports bets has remained constant over decades: the books average 7. We are more bullish. But that's a plus, not a business model by itself. Now we know the ESPN demo is loaded with young people under legal gaming age, individuals who do not have the disposable income necessary to bet regularly and lots of empty calorie viewers who may buy a team jersey now and then, but otherwise just sit and watch.
We also know that ESPN undoubtedly has masses of passionate fans of given teams and sports who do bet now and then on key games, series and of course Super Bowls. When the court ruled, ESPN should have had perhaps they did , deep dive research ready to roll as to the percentage of their audience who could be tagged as regular bettors. I have to believe that would be at very minimum a build to 1. Where were the numbers crunchers in ?
More importantly, instead of being an afterthought entry, ESPN would probably be among the top tier platforms. Not only on sheer brand identity, but because deploying their already established content and programming to a betting site would build considerable incentive for many fans to view the content and place bets on the same site. Instead, a spinoff and subsequent move into sports betting now as urged by Loeb confronts ESPN with 14 competitors, in a sector dominated by four powerful entrants, triggering the need, regardless of its brand awareness levels, to heavily promote.
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