How ESPN Bet Can Help PENN Climb Up Ohio Sportsbooks Rankings

Written By C.J. Pierre on October 13, 2023
A picture representing ESPN Bet climbing the Ohio sportsbook rankings

ESPN Bet is expected to launch in Ohio this November as PENN Entertainment works to rebrand Barstool Sportsbook. Penn CEO Jay Snowden has said the launch should be before Thanksgiving. The app should be available for the second half of the NFL regular season before the playoffs start in January.

The Buckeye State is one of the 16 sports betting markets ESPN Bet is expected to enter this fall. FanDuel and DraftKings dominate most sports betting markets.

Ohio is no different in that regard. FanDuel Ohio and DraftKings Ohio have about two-thirds of the market share.

However, there is room for growth. Penn could make some traction up the Ohio sportsbook rankings with the help of the ESPN brand.

ESPN Bet brand could vault Penn into the Top 3 among Ohio Sportsbooks

The Penn-ESPN connection became major news for the Ohio sports betting industry. According to Ohio sports betting revenue reports, Barstool ranks sixth out of 18 online sports betting operators in Ohio’s lifetime handle and revenue.

Penn sold 100% of the Barstool Sports stock to Barstool founder Dave Portnoy in exchange for certain non-compete and other restrictive agreements. Penn also has the right to receive 50% of the gross proceeds received by Portnoy in any subsequent sale or other monetization event of Barstool.

Many experts believe Penn’s partnership with Barstool held the operator back, becoming more of an obstacle than an asset. Portnoy posted a video on X (formerly known as Twitter) saying this is arguably the biggest day in the history of Barstool Sports.

Portnoy said he has nothing but respect for Penn and the relationship the two companies created. However, he says several roadblocks prevented the partnership and Barstool Sportsbook from reaching its top potential.

“We underestimated just how tough it is for myself and Barstool to operate in a regulated world,” said Portnoy. “Where gambling regulators, The New York TimesBusiness Insider hit pieces (affecting) the stock price. Every time we did something it was one step forward, two steps back. We got denied licenses because of me. You name it.”

Meanwhile, rebranding to ESPN could help narrow the gap between third and sixth place. Barstool handled $12.4 million worth of sports bets in August. On the other hand, Bet365 Ohio brought in the third most handle during August with $27.5 million. That’s a $15.1 million gap.

The question is, can the ESPN brand bridge that gap? Time will tell.

However, if given the right push, there is no reason ESPN Bet cannot challenge for the third spot in Ohio. There is a belief that the ESPN brand will have a more favorable relationship with state regulators than Barstool did.

Penn talks ESPN Bet details with investors at G2E Conference

Executives of PENN Entertainment and ESPN met with investors and analysts at the Global Gaming Expo in Las Vegas earlier this week to discuss the plans for ESPN Bet. ESPN Vice President of Sports Betting & Fantasy Mike Morrison says that ESPN is coming into the sports betting sphere for the long haul.

The expectation is that ESPN Bet will have a majority of its features available at the time of November’s launch, but not all of them. Penn CEO Jay Snowden says ESPN Bet could lag behind DraftKings and FanDuel in hold percentages at first, given the more sophisticated same-game parlay options the sports betting giants have to offer.

The company is counting on integrating ESPN’s 200 million monthly viewers with its own proprietary tech stack. Snowden has been touting theScore Bet’s success story in Ontario as a blueprint for ESPN Bet. Penn saw a 108% increase in customer retention six months after theScore Bet moved to Penn’s proprietary tech platform. Furthermore, 72% of users and 73% of handle came from theScore’s media app over those six months.

Snowden continued to pitch a November launch as a positive, suggesting bettors may be out of promotional dollars from the beginning of the season. Therefore, bettors could be more likely to give ESPN Bet a try.

PENN is ready to spend a lot to boost its sportsbook market share. PENN is committed to spending $150 million annually to ESPN for “marketing services,” as well as a similar amount for marketing annually outside of ESPN. Barstool’s average market share through the first six months of sports betting in Ohio was 4.5%.

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C.J. Pierre

C.J. Pierre is a Lead Writer at PlayOhio. He has been covering news and sports for over a decade for both online and TV broadcasts. He was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN and is an alum of Minnesota State University: Moorhead. He recently dove into tribal casino, sports betting and online gambling news. He also covered the launch of sports betting in Arizona. C.J. has experience as a reporter and videographer and has covered high school, college and professional sports throughout his career, most notably following Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Vikings and North Dakota State University football.

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