ESPN Bet’s Early Ohio Success Could Be The Start Of A New Hierarchy

Written By Adam Hensley on January 9, 2024 - Last Updated on January 11, 2024
A picture of a medal stand with ESPN BET's logo in third for a

ESPN Bet hit the ground running during its first month of operation in Ohio.

The brainchild of ESPN and PENN Entertainment had the third-largest handle of all Ohio online sportsbooks in November. Only industry titans FanDuel and DraftKings accepted more wagers.

The fact that ESPN Bet Ohio cracked the top three in its first month in Ohio is quite the feat. But is it a fluke? Or is this a sign that ESPN Bet could be a sustainable option within the top group?

Here’s a closer look.

ESPN BET was a hit during its first month operating in Ohio

Ohio residents wagered $864.2 million in November, which is a 15.8% jump from October’s total. It’s the second-highest month for Ohio since it launched its legal sports betting industry.

FanDuel Ohio reigned supreme, commanding a handle of $293.3 million. DraftKings Ohio finished second at $275.8 million.

But that’s when ESPN Bet came in. The newcomer on the block totaled a handle of $70.8 million and boasted the highest hold of any operator at 16.9%.

ESPN’s first month in Ohio was better than three operators that usually make up the second tier of Ohio sportsbooks.

It’s worth noting ESPN BET spent close to $30 million that month on promotional credits. In turn, the sportsbook finished the month with $12 million in revenue.

PENN Entertainment’s Barstool Sportsbook never sniffed this success in Ohio

PENN Entertainment’s former online sports betting brand, Barstool Sportsbook, never came close to the single-month success ESPN BET had in November.

In October, the final month before Barstool Sportsbook rebranded to ESPN Bet, the sportsbook handled just $19.8 million in online wagers. Barstool Sportsbook revenue came out to roughly $1.6 million that month, too. Both the handle and revenue ranked seventh among Ohio’s operators in October.

November was ESPN BET’s best-case scenario

Let’s be clear: ESPN Bet isn’t going to surpass FanDuel and DraftKings. It’s just not possible.

There are several different operators jockeying for position, but none have been able to crack the top two spots nationally.

According to a study by gaming analyst Eilers & Krejcik Gaming, FanDuel boasts a 39.3% sports betting market share nationally. DraftKings clocks in not far behind at 34.1%. That’s more than 70% of the entire sports betting market across the country.

In other words, it’s a race for third place.

Can ESPN Bet sustain November’s success going forward?

Name recognition is big when it comes to sports betting. And much of that comes from advertising.

ESPN BET didn’t shy away from dropping serious money on its promotional spend during its first month in Ohio. It’s typical for any sportsbook to do the same when starting in a new state.

But eventually the market settles.

For instance, Bet365 spent $17 million on promotions in March. That was nearly double that of FanDuel and DraftKings.

But the following month, its promotional spending dropped by roughly 70%. With its massive promotional spend in March, it ranked third in revenue and market share in Ohio. However, Bet365 ranked fifth in handle in November.

Legacy gaming brands also fighting for second-tier market share

Others competing for that third spot are BetMGM and Caesars.

Both are entertainment industry titans with seemingly unlimited pockets. While their sports betting apps may not be as popular among Ohio bettors, they are still well-respected.

They will always be able to go toe-to-toe with other operators in terms of advertising and spend on Ohio sports betting promos, and they offer perks (like rewards programs) that ESPN Bet cannot match.

But when you think of sports, you think of ESPN. There isn’t another sports brand with a grip on the industry like ESPN.

It has been this way for years. ESPN has evolved to meet consumers where they want to be met, and partnering with PENN Entertainment to open a sportsbook is another example of its evolution. That alone gives ESPN Bet a fighting chance to find its footing as Ohio’s third-most popular sportsbook.

Photo by PlayOhio
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Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley is a journalist with experience covering online sports betting and gambling across Catena Media. His byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network.

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