• Bookies
  • News
  • ESPN BET Launch: Q&A With ESPN VP Sports Betting Mike Morrison
Most Valuable Offer

$1,000 First Bet on Caesars

Visit site
Must be 21+ to participate. T&Cs apply.

ESPN BET Launch: Q&A With ESPN VP Sports Betting Mike Morrison

Bill Speros for Bookies.com

Bill Speros  | 9 mins

ESPN BET Launch: Q&A With ESPN VP Sports Betting Mike Morrison

$1,000 First Bet on Caesars

Visit site
Used 21 Times Today
Popular in Virginia
Must be 21+ to participate. T&Cs apply.

ESPN BET could change the sports betting ecosystem.

Or it could become just another player in an overcrowded space that failed to carve out enough market share to justify PENN Entertainment’s $150 million annual cost to use the biggest brand name in sports media. The ESPN BET switch take place simultaneously across the 17 states where PENN operates the Barstool-branded book on November 14.

Here, Vice President of Sports Betting & Fantasy at ESPN Mike Morrison believes ESPN BET has a not-so-secret weapon: ESPN. 

“How we're going to reference it, promote it, and integrate it under one brand, is really important. I think it serves the sports fans better to have a straightforward approach, and a unified approach,” Morrison told bookies.com. “And being able to utilize the ESPN brand around ESPN BET is incredibly important. 

We're the number one and most trusted brand in sports. There's, obviously, incredible connectivity with our fan base, and on our platforms. And being able to lean into the ESPN brand, under this new ESPN BET branding, we think was the only way to go here. And this hasn't been done in the market on the way we're planning to do it, with a unified brand in our platform, in conjunction with the sportsbook.”

Morrison simply added: “We're excited about this.” 

The ESPN BET logo was unveiled on October 18. The logo generated wide-spread feedback, positive and not-so-positive.

PENN CEO Jay Snowden announced the switch-over date for PENN-ESPN BET on November 2. 

ESPN Bet Q&A With Mike Morrison

ESPN BET Launch: Q&A With ESPN VP Sports Betting Mike Morrison 2

Morrison spoke to bookies.com about the future of ESPN BET in a wide-ranging interview two days after the logo was released in October. Here is a transcript of our conversation with Morrison. Some questions and answers have been edited for space and clarity: 

Bookies: When this deal was announced, I got a message from a well-known ESPN personality. Their question was this: "Is this good for ESPN?" So, is this good for ESPN?

Morrison: This is great for ESPN. This is part of our intention to meet sports fans where they are. And this is a growing area of sports fan interest. Sports betting is a growing area of interest for sports fans. For me, as fan perspective, it was important to both explore and respond to, based on, again, where the fans are today.

Bookies: ESPN is not the first major content creator to link up with a sportsbook. We saw it with Fox BET and PointsBet, with NBC. What did you learn from those experiences? And how are you going to be different?

Morrison: This is different on a lot of levels. Again, as ESPN, we're unique in the space. We're the market leader in sports. We have a leading position across all the platforms that we operate. We're the leading digital destination, and the leading sports app. ESPN+ is a market leader. We have the number one fantasy app in the market. There isn't really a comparable scenario, where someone with our set of impact on the market, and the reach, and engagement we have on our platforms, to tie all of that together under a single brand. And being able to go to market, through our collaboration with PENN, with something we feel is going to be best in class, designed for sports fans, targeting sports fans, I think that's incredibly important. And we don't feel it's been done in this way.

Bookies: When did ESPN begin to integrate betting information into its programming?

Morrison: Early 2019. PASPA was repealed in 2018. And at that point in time, we began to look at storytelling around sports betting, and where it made sense to begin to include that in our content, in our storytelling, and our game coverage. We took our time. We wanted to test and learn a bit. We initially sought partnerships in the space so we could unify how we reference odds, and more importantly, how we source them so that we had a singular approach with a legal sports book in the U.S. (Caesars). 

Bookies: Was an ESPN-branded app the plan the whole time? 

Morrison: No. We took our time. We were quite deliberate about what made sense. We wanted to really take a look at where the market was, what (our) expectation was, and what our research was supporting. We looked at every stage, every point in time, what made sense then? Initially, the content piece was an emerging area of interest, something fans were expecting, and something that made sense to weave into storytelling. Sports betting, at its very essence, is really just who's expected to win or lose a game, and by how much, right? Once betting became legalized and regulated on a state-by-state basis, it made sense to begin to look at that and, again, bring that into our storytelling platforms. And then, from there, again, we took our time. We needed to see more of a national footprint, where betting was available in a number of states.

Bookies: When did the plan of having an app emerge?

Morrison: It took a while. We wanted to see when that made sense to integrate, digitally, off of our platform, through referral traffic. That began in late 2020 and was only available because it was geo-targeted in those legal states. It really just became recently apparent, that having the use of our brand around sports betting, seeing if there's an opportunity to have an app experience for fans, and utilizing the ESPN BET brand, makes sense for us. It makes sense for a partner. We needed to have a partner to meet all the regulatory compliance requirements and someone who was an expert in the space and would be running and operating the sports book, completely separate and distinct from us. That was a very long process of assessment decision-making, finding who we felt was the right fit as a partner.

Bookies: And that led to PENN?

Morrison: Listen, we're thrilled about the partnership with PENN. We think they're a great management team, with great leadership with (CEO Jay Snowden). We're confident about our collaboration and our approach together. And we're prepared to address any number of issues that I'm sure we're going to have to address. Part of when you do these sorts of things is you really want to feel comfortable with the partners you're working with, and that you're well-placed to manage things well, collaborate well, and problem-solve well. And we really feel like we're set up to do that.

Bookies: What ESPN personalities can we expect to see tied to the ESPN BET brand?

Morrison: We're working through various creative options that we'll be able to share soon. And we're obviously planning to make the right talent available for promotion, or integrations around betting. We haven't announced anything specifically there yet, but we do plan to have, again, the right ESPN talent available, for the right use case.

Bookies: Does ESPN BET expect to take over a significant market share by just showing up and being ESPN, or do you expect a bit of a slog?

Morrison: “We think that there's a great opportunity out, in sports, to really have ESPN have a presence around sports betting using our brand. We think what we're going to be offering to sports fans, as an experience, and in our messaging, and how we treat everything from responsible gaming to content, to promotion, will be done in a way that hasn't been seen yet. We hope that everyone is as excited as we are when they see what we have, and what we're bringing to market.”

Bookies: The new logo generated a lot of buzz. That must help? 

Morrison: You've seen the new look and feel, and the color, and the logos that have been already promoted in the market, which we're super excited about. Things look different and distinct, and are very authentic in the ESPN world, and also in this new space of betting. We're excited about a lot of things we're sharing. And there's no better company at creativity and marketing in the sports space than ESPN.

Regulators Voice Concerns About GameDay

ESPN BET Launch: Q&A With ESPN VP Sports Betting Mike Morrison 1

Several key details of PENN’s switch to ESPN BET are yet to be finalized. 

Among the issues, Morrison was unable to address with specifics at this time: 

  • How ESPN and PENN plan to handle regulatory concerns about the promotion of the ESPN BET app during the College GameDay football and basketball shows?
  • How will “insiders” such as Adam Schefter and Adrian Wojnarowski be separated from the perception that they are sharing – or not sharing – any information that could move betting markets? 

Morrison said ESPN will soon be sharing more details concerning its end of the partnership. He deferred specific questions about the app's operation or regulatory concerns to PENN. 

Bookies.com reached out to PENN officials last week and has yet to get a response to our questions. 

Massachusetts gaming regulators have raised several concerns about PENN’s switch to ESPN BET as its brand. Members of the Massachusetts Gaming Commission on October 19 said they did not have enough information about how PENN plans to handle the issues of gambling being associated with the College GameDay shows, and the possibilities of ESPN personalities suggesting specific bets. Commission expect to get answers to their questions from PENN later this week and and plan to host another public meeting about  this subject at 10 a.m. local time November 7. 

Where Will ESPN BET Launch?

ESPN BET Launch: Q&A With ESPN VP Sports Betting Mike Morrison 3

The Barstool brand remains active, but PENN is no longer marketing it. Here are the 17 states in which PENN is currently licensed to operate online betting sites. Morrison said ESPN BET will go live on November 14, or in state once it is able to do so. 

About the Author

Bill Speros for Bookies.com
Bill Speros
Bill Speros is an award-winning journalist and editor whose career includes stops at USA Today Sports Network / Golfweek, Cox Media, ESPN, Orlando Sentinel and Denver Post.