In his second stint as chief executive officer of ESPN parent Walt Disney (NYSE: DIS), Bob Iger appears to accept sports betting is part of the equation for the broadcasting giant, but he wants to keep it arm’s length.
In a wide-ranging interview with Time’s Belinda Luscombe, which touched on issues such as Disney’s content woes, the company’s initiated feud with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), activist investors and a potential buyout of Hulu, Iger said Disney isn’t interested in direct gaming investments. Rather, he views sports wagering as an avenue for ESPN to boost customer engagement.
ESPN is interested in figuring out a way to enable its consumers, who are watching sports on television or mobile devices or whatever, to participate in some form of sports betting without having to leave the experience completely,” Iger told Time.
That’s somewhat standoffish relative to comments he made last month at the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference where the Disney CEO said, “I think it’s inevitable that there’ll be basically a seamlessness between sports programming and sports betting.”
Iger Sounds Sort of Comfortable with Sports Betting
Iger’s successor turned predecessor Bob Chapek was more overt in his acknowledgement of sports wagering and how it could play a role in ESPN’s future.
While there’s speculation regarding Iger’s role — if any — in Disney’s board removing Chapek, whom Iger anointed as his successor, the two executives agree that sports betting cannot be a threat to Disney’s brand and allegedly family-oriented values.
“I was probably on the more conservative side about this for a long time. But I’ve changed because I think the acceptance of sports betting has grown significantly,” Iger told Time. “And my desire is to see that the company continues to serve its consumers well, without us really, I think, distancing ourselves from values, because we’re not actually causing the bets to be made.”
He added that he doesn’t see an issue with ESPN linking to regulated sportsbooks. ESPN+ isn’t mentioned in the interview. That streaming platform saw its subscriber base nearly double over the past two years, but that’s not helping Disney stock as the shares were halved over that period.
Disney Already Has Modest Gaming Investment
Time mentions a financial relationship between ESPN and DraftKings (NASDAQ: DKNG), but that comes by way of a 6% stake in the gaming company Disney inherited via its $71.3 billion takeover of 21st Century Fox — a transaction at least one activist investor is critical of. Iger was CEO at that the time of that deal.
Currently, Disney is essentially a passive investor in DraftKings. Iger didn’t mention plans Disney has, if any, for its slice of the sportsbook operator.
He also did not comment on the possibility of ESPN making a sports betting acquisition or a multi-billion partnership deal with a sportsbook — two old rumors that never came to fruition.
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