ESPN BET Drives Strong Retail Handle As Online Numbers Falter

Written By Corey Sharp on May 23, 2024
ESPN BET retail sportsbook in the Hollywood at Greektown Casino in Detroit. The opening of the first ESPN BET retail sportsbook at Hollywood Greektown was a success. However, the online product has lagged in Michigan.

There had been hope that PENN Entertainment would be a top sports betting operator after the company split with Barstool and partnered with ESPN last summer. While the retail vertical of the sports betting business is doing quite well in Michigan, the online department has not gained the same traction just yet.

PENN Entertainment announced a successful open of its new ESPN BET retail sportsbook just before the draft last month. April numbers show that the property had a terrific month, aided by Detroit playing host to the NFL Draft.

However, the ESPN BET online sportsbook in Michigan continues to lose ground in the Great Lakes State, as evidenced by April revenue totals.

Why is that? PlayMichigan took a deep dive into both the numbers and comments from PENN CEO Jay Snowden.

Retail success hasn’t translated to online product

PENN Entertainment played host to a slew of events during the NFL Draft at Hollywood Casino at Greektown, which contributed to the successful opening of the first ESPN BET retail sportsbook. Many big-named talent appeared at the casino to conduct podcasts, radio and TV shows. Those included:

  • First Draft podcast with Field Yates, Domonique Foxworth, Mina Kimes and Matt Miller
  • Unsportsmanlike with Evan Cohen, Chris Canty, and Michelle Smallmon
  • Greeny Show with Mike Greenberg
  • ESPN BET Live with various hosts

Hollywood Casino at Greektown is the leader in handle among retail sportsbooks in Detroit casinos, and displayed that once again in April:

  • Hollywood Casino at Greektown: $7.5 million
  • MGM Grand Detroit: $3.9 million
  • MotorCity Casino: $3.8 million

bar graph showing ESPN BET Michigan retail sports betting handle vs. FanDuel, BetMGM - first four months of 2024

Without the bulk of March Madness and no NFL games to bet on in April, Hollywood Casino at Greektown produced impressive retail results last month. It’s generated $31.6 million in handle through 2024 so far, leading the other Detroit casinos.

However, the success on the retail side has not carried over to the online vertical. ESPN BET has lost market share among Michigan online sportsbooks in each month in 2024:

  • January: 10.2%
  • February: 8.6%
  • March: 8.1%
  • April: 7.9%

The ESPN BET Michigan online sportsbook has finished fourth consistently behind FanDuel, DraftKings and BetMGM.

bar graph showing ESPN BET Michigan online sports betting handle vs. FanDuel, DraftKings, BetMGM - first four months of 2024

However, during PENN’s Q1 2024 earnings call, Snowden said he’s aiming between 10% and 20% market share.

Perhaps it’ll take time, but these numbers won’t cut it in Michigan, especially since the online portion is much more important to PENN’s bottom line.

Retail success is great, but it only made up 23% of total ESPN BET handle in Michigan

It’s important to note that just 23% of ESPN BET’s combined sports betting handle in Michigan in April came from retail wagering.

More than $25 million (or 77%) of its total sports betting handle of $32.6 million — retail and online combined — came from online betting in April.

So, an online decline is much more concerning.

Why is ESPN BET slipping?

Look no further than Snowden’s comments earlier this month as reasons for ESPN BET’s slow start, and even declining figures, on the online sports betting side.

Why ESPN BET market share has decreased in Michigan

Snowden said during the earnings call earlier this month that’s he’s pleased so far, but the results are nowhere near expectations, yet. Hold percentage has been an issue for ESPN BET. However, it’s gotten better over the course of 2024:

  • January: 0.9%
  • February: 5.9%
  • March: 7.8%
  • April: 8.4%

In addition, Snowden mentioned PENN has seen lower spend per user compared to the average. He does think it’ll pick up as time goes on.

“We should expect their engagement with the app and overall spend to grow over time as they become more comfortable, experienced and knowledgeable about the app and sports betting in general and as the integrations with ESPN become deeper and more seamless, so any friction between ESPN’s ecosystem and ESPN BET is eliminated,” Snowden said on the call.

He also thinks PENN has not leveraged its VIP bettors enough, which is a huge component of sports betting.

Snowden mentioned an encouraging part is the hiring of Chief Technology Officer Aaron LaBerge. It’ll be LaBerge’s job to upgrade the ESPN BET product.

Snowden foreshadowed some of the improvements, which include deep integration with the ESPN app and ESPN fantasy app to convert players to the sports betting platform. There will also be home screen and navigation enhancements, along with a more competitive parlay and prop markets.

“You will start to see some of this at the start of the NFL season and additional features added throughout the football season and in 2025,” Snowden said.

“And, of course, a little further down the road, there are integrations with ESPN’s new direct-to-consumer streaming offering later in 2025. More to come on that as we get closer, but you can start to imagine the possibilities with account linking and deeper integration.”

As this comes together over the following quarters, time will tell if it’ll help ESPN BET online sportsbook in Michigan.

Photo by PENN Entertainment
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Corey Sharp

Corey Sharp joined Catena Media in 2022 and is the go-to expert for Michigan gambling. Born and raised in Philadelphia, PA, he previously worked for the Philadelphia Inquirer and NBC Sports Philadelphia as a sports journalist and content producer. In Corey’s role as Lead Writer for PlayMichigan, he works alongside a talented team of expert journalists and analysts to bring you the most comprehensive and accurate coverage of gambling news in Michigan. Corey’s contacts around the industry makes him a trusted source. Corey produces daily stories and features about the gambling space. Corey graduated from Holy Family University in Philadelphia with a bachelor’s degree in sports management.

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