Legal sports wagering expansion allows ESPN to broaden its audience reach Howard Stutz, CDC Gaming Reports · October 12, 2019 at 8:00 pm In many ways, ESPN has long addressed the members of its audience interested in sports wagering. The national sports network just wasn’t overtly targeting the betting crowd. “From our perspective, ESPN has always provided the statistics, information and trends for people who are sports fans,” Ilan Ben-Hanan, ESPN vice president of programming and acquisitions, told CDC Gaming Reports. “You didn’t have to be a gambler to get value out of the information. If you wanted to place a wager, that information is also valuable to you.” Ilan Ben-Hanan(Photo by Joe Faraoni/ ESPN Images) Last year’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing states to legalize and regulate sports betting has given ESPN the impetus to develop programming direct toward sports gamblers. In May, the network announced it would build an ESPN-branded studio at the Linq Hotel & Casino on the Las Vegas Strip where it will produce sports betting content. ESPN reached a partnership with Caesars Entertainment, which owns the Linq, to serve as the network’s official odds supplier. In March, ESPN unveiled Daily Wager, an hour-long Monday-through-Friday betting news and information program. In August, the show added a Sunday morning edition to air during the football season. Daily Wager is hosted by Doug Kezirian, who spent seven years as a sports anchor for the ABC affiliate in Las Vegas and covered the sports betting industry. The program was moved from ESPNews to ESPN2 just five months after launching. Kezirian said the idea behind the show is to better serve fans who are also active sports bettors. The show strives to educate general sports fans with more in-depth analysis. “It’s basically SportsCenter through the lens of sports betting,” Kezirian said. “We react to breaking news, and when something happens, we work to get it on the air. We’ve had (betting) lines change during commercial breaks, so we’ve had to adjust.” Doug Kezirian on set “Daily Wager” The program includes segments from Las Vegas-based betting analyst Preston Johnson, who reports from a temporary studio at Planet Hollywood on the Strip, which is owned by Caesars. Ben-Hanan said the Bristol, Connecticut-based ESPN is responding to the interest of a growing sports betting audience with additional content but has no desire to convert the network into an all-wagering channel. The Las Vegas studio, for example, will be used similarly to ESPN’s Los Angeles studio near Staples Center. Expected to open next year, the studio will host Daily Wager segments and produce exclusive ESPN programming connected to major sporting events with a large sports wagering component, such as the NCAA Basketball Tournament and the Super Bowl. And, Ben-Hanan said, “there are a lot of things happening in Las Vegas beyond sports gambling.” In April, the city will host the NFL Draft, which is given prominent coverage annually by ESPN. The relocation of the Oakland Raiders next season to a $2 billion domed stadium near the Strip – and the potential that the city might host the Super Bowl as soon as 2025 – is also attractive to ESPN. “We have benefited from having a Los Angeles studio, and we believe we will benefit by having a studio in Las Vegas,” Ben-Hanan said. Doug Kezirian, Preston Johnson, Stanford Steve Coughlin and Chris Fallica on the set of Daily Wager(Photo by Melissa Rawlins / ESPN Images) ESPN and sports betting Betting odds have been discussed on ESPN programming in the past. For example, Chris “The Bear” Fallica made picks on the network’s Saturday morning college football pregame show in seasons prior to the Supreme Court decision. At the Global Gaming Expo a year ago in Las Vegas, ESPN personality and anchor Scott Van Pelt took part in a keynote session on sports betting. Van Pelt, host of the late night SportsCenter, often references sports betting on his show, primarily through his “Bad Beats” segment. When Van Pelt visited G2E, there were just four states with legal sports betting. To date, 13 states, including Nevada’s legacy market, have launched sports betting operations through casinos, racetracks and mobile wagering applications in the last 17 months. Another five states, along with Washington D.C., could have sports betting by the end of the year. Six other states have either active legislation or ballot initiatives in place. The American Gaming Association said $11 billion has been wagered on the activity legally following the justices’ decision. Ben-Hanan said the expansion is creating more potential sports bettors, allowing the company to offer “more coverage in the space.” During his time on the air in Las Vegas, Kezirian interviewed sports book operators on his shows. He also founded and co-hosted The Las Vegas Sportsline at ESPN’s Las Vegas radio affiliate. He took much of what he learned about the activity in the desert to ESPN. His goal on Daily Wager is to educate sports fans and offer an entertaining product. He also hosts the ESPN podcast Behind the Bets with Doug Kezirian. “Nothing is off the table. There is no blueprint. We’re going to roll with the times,” Kezirian said, adding that he is a Las Vegas proponent. “One hundred percent, I believe Vegas is benefiting from all the sports betting expansion,” he said. Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.