Disney’s Iger says Penn’s ESPN offer was ‘by far’ the best

Disney CEO Bob Iger and Minnie Mouse
Image: Shutterstock / Kathy Hutchins

Wednesday afternoon it was Disney’s turn to speak about the blockbuster deal with Penn Entertainment to launch ESPN BET. During the Q2 earnings call for Disney, which is ESPN’s parent company, CEO Bob Iger said that Penn came in hot and outbid the competition when it came to a sportsbook partnership.

“We’ve been in discussions with a number of entities over a fairly long period of time. It’s something that we’ve wanted to accomplish, obviously, because we believe there’s an opportunity here to significantly grow engagement with ESPN consumers, particularly young consumers,” Iger said on the call. “And Penn — why Penn? Because Penn stepped up in a very aggressive way and made an offer to us that was better than any of the competitive offers by far. And we like the fact that Penn is going to use this as a growth engine for their business.”

The rumors of ESPN getting into the world of betting date back years. In 2021, the rumor was that a $3 billion deal was brewing with Caesars Entertainment that would expand on their existing partnership.

More recently, in October 2022, the rumor du jour was that ESPN and DraftKings were nearing a finalized deal.

Iger also specifically referenced the partnership as a “licensing deal” and chose his words carefully to describe the upside it brings to ESPN and, in turn, Disney.

“This licensing deal will offer a compelling new experience for sports fans that will enhance consumer engagement. We’re excited to offer this to the many fans who have long been asking for it. Overall, we’re considering potential strategic partnerships for ESPN, looking at distribution, technology, marketing, and content opportunities where we retain control of ESPN. We’ve received notable interest from many different entities, and we look forward to sharing more details at a later date when we’re further along in this process,” Iger said.

Disney has always kept itself fairly removed from the world of gambling but last year, the previous Disney CEO Bob Chupak seemed to indicate the company was warming to the idea of getting more involved in sports betting. However, the followed up those remarks with an interview where he claimed Disney would never take bets.

Chapek left his post as CEO in 2023, paving the way for Iger’s return and a 180 on the company’s approach to sports betting.

Through the licensing deal, ESPN can still remain an arm’s length away from the actual operations of taking wagers. Additionally, Disney and ESPN leadership will likely not be subject to the scrutiny that comes with being a key stakeholder of a gambling operation.