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Comparing ESPN BET to ESPN Mobile Isn’t Fair

Former ESPN reporter Darren Rovell declared ESPN BET might be dead by this time next year in a viral tweet Tuesday. Now, he might argue about that encapsulation, but that’s what Rovell does: argue semantics. He’s turned it into a cottage industry. More power to him.

Many inside Bristol took issue with the announcement from Rovell, but the biggest sticking point I had with his statement was his comparison between ESPN BET and the disastrous mid-2000s ESPN Mobile rollout.

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That just isn’t fair.

For starters, I have a hard time believing Steve Jobs would call ESPN BET “the dumbest f***ing idea I’ve ever heard”, as he called ESPN Mobile.

ESPN Mobile was a valuable lesson the network had to learn at the time: you don’t have to be everywhere just to say you’re everywhere.

This new venture alongside PENN Entertainment is the complete opposite of that situation and actually goes hand-in-hand with ESPN’s mission: to serve sports fans.

Like it or not, sports media is largely going to be influenced by sports betting going forward. Do I like it? No, but I’m not going to attempt to pontificate about the downfall of sports civilization like I’m some dimestore Jay Mariotti. It’s just the reality of the situation.

I don’t know that I understand why the shift is completely necessary. Sports Radio has existed in its current form for 35 years without being strictly focused on spreads, over/unders, prop bets, and parlays, so chasing the quick buck sports betting provides isn’t the greatest plan, in my opinion, but there’s a reason these guys are making millions running companies and I’m trying this from a desk in my spare bedroom.

But sports fans — obviously — are interested in betting on the games ESPN is already covering and broadcasting. It is a logical step for the company to focus some of its efforts on the sports betting market. It’s just simply a no-brainer.

If the argument is that ESPN BET is getting in too late to the game, that might have some legitimate legs behind it. DraftKings, FanDuel, and other more recognizable casino/gambling brands have certainly done their due diligence in attempting to corner the market. But this venture will truly test the power of the ESPN brand in 2023, maybe unlike any other trial balloon.

Does ESPN still have the brand power and recognition to come into a sector late in the game and still be a player? In my estimation, yes, it does. Despite all of the naysayers and those who trash the network at every move, it is still the undisputed Worldwide Leader.

ESPN Mobile was a destined-to-fail venture because no one wanted or needed the service. There is, however, a vast demand for sports betting apps. Is the market oversaturated with options? Absolutely. But just like in life, only the strong will survive. And ESPN, alongside PENN Entertainment, is in a strong position. Stronger than any other broadcast group has or will be. If it fails, which I would be surprised that we’ll have an answer in a year like Rovell suggests, it won’t be because it’s an ill-fated idea.

Garrett Searight
Garrett Searight
Garrett Searight is Barrett Media's News Editor, which includes writing bi-weekly industry features and a weekly column. He has previously served as Program Director and Afternoon Co-Host on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, OH, and is the radio play-by-play voice of Northern Michigan University hockey. Reach out to him at [email protected].

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