Disney is making an aggressive move into online sports betting through its partnership between ESPN and PENN Entertainment. ESPN Bet launched nationally in late 2022 and projects gaining up to 20% market share by 2027. This poses a legitimate threat to current leaders DraftKings and FanDuel.

ESPN Bet will launch in North Carolina alongside other top sportsbooks when online wagering debuts on March 11th. With extensive media rights and deep fan connections, Disney holds key advantages that could allow ESPN Bet to quickly acquire customers.

ESPN’s Broadcast Rights and Digital Reach

Both DraftKings NC and FanDuel NC provide strong in-app game updates, analysis and streaming integrations. However, they lack ESPN’s far-reaching connections with sports fans.

Key ESPN assets include:

  • 26 million ESPN+ streaming subscribers as of early 2023
  • 1.1 million ESPN Bet app downloads shortly after November 2022 launch
  • Media rights to ACC and NCAA basketball tournaments
  • Broadcast and streaming access across most major college sports

This breadth of sports content and built-in audience gives ESPN Bet the tools to thrive in North Carolina.

New Streaming and Betting Products on the Horizon

Additional announcements further ESPN’s potential as an online sportsbook leader. Disney CEO Bob Iger stated that in Fall 2025, “the full suite of ESPN’s channels” will launch as a standalone direct-to-consumer platform.

Along with live sports streaming, the new digital product will integrate ESPN Bet betting options, fantasy sports contests, stats, eCommerce capabilities and personalization. Attracting younger fans is a focus.

ESPN also recently revealed a joint streaming venture with Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery, debuting in Fall 2024. Including rights to men’s March Madness and other college sports, this further boosts ESPN’s sports betting linkage.

Protecting Students and Addressing Responsible Gaming

A glaring omission from Disney’s plans is concrete measures to promote responsible sports betting among college students and address issues like gambling addiction. For instance, ESPN betting odds feature prominently on the site, with minimal responsible gaming notices.

More progress is still required regarding:

  • Preventing illegal sports betting by those under 21
  • Curbing harassment of student-athletes over wagers
  • Expanding addiction resources on platforms

The NCAA has lobbied against certain college sports betting options and advocates improved responsible gaming policies. Disney must prioritize these concerns as ESPN Bet grows, particularly with its wide access to young audiences.

Capitalizing on March Madness and ACC Basketball

The North Carolina sports betting launch coincides perfectly with March Madness, when ESPN Bet can leverage its tournament media rights. Beyond March Madness, the network holds broadcast rights for almost every D-I conference tournament.

This positions ESPN Bet to thrive during college basketball’s postseason. And by owning ACC rights, the app offers Tar Heels and Blue Devils fans a go-to March Madness betting destination.

✅ Fact Checked on February 16, 2024 by Ken Weaver