What Dan Le Batard’s $50M DraftKings deal means for sports media’s future

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This week, ex-ESPNer Dan Le Batard’s new company, Meadowlark, announced a deal with the sports gambling platform DraftKings. The agreement was for three years and $50 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Let’s go over what this all means and where things are going:

1. Middleman Left Out

The continued trend in media, especially in opinion and entertainment spaces, is to cut out the middleman.

Prior to podcasts, YouTube and other direct-to-consumer products, ESPN would have had vast leverage over Le Batard. Its reach would have been the only way to reach the kind of mass audience an advertiser would want to connect with.

Now, Le Batard has a top podcast, so he doesn’t need ESPN to reach his loyal audience. DraftKings, meanwhile, doesn’t need ESPN to partner with Le Batard.

Pat McAfee already did something similar with his FanDuel deal. Le Batard’s show didn’t fully work on terrestrial radio, but having him do something on radio that is predominantly local in Miami makes sense.

Le Batard was making around $3 million per year at ESPN. The DraftKings deal is with the company he co-founded with former ESPN president John Skipper.

Le Batard’s show incorporates a pretty big staff, but it is a fit in this environment, with a strong connection with its audience. The show is not just Le Batard. His partner, Jon “Stugotz” Weiner, also has quite the following.

It is not known exactly what Le Batard is making, but he won’t go hungry as he encourages his audience to gamble.

2. Gambling platforms as sports media companies

As sports gambling increasingly becomes legal across the country, its prevalence in media will grow. If you listen to WFAN, you will hear gambling ad after gambling ad.

The old Fox Sports regional stations are now branded as Bally Sports, under Sinclair’s ownership. Fox Sports has a partnership with Fox Bet. Penn National Gaming has a large ownership stake in Barstool Sports. We could go on and on.

Gambling companies will become sports media distributors — and perhaps vice versa.

3. This is new — to a point

In 2004, Howard Stern announced he would leave terrestrial radio for the new subscription, direct-to-consumer service Sirius. Chris Russo followed four years later, out the door at WFAN. Sirius and its then-rival, XM, were the new game in town with a lot of investors.

Now, with podcasts and YouTube maturing as more viable advertising formats, this is the next stage in media. DraftKings may not make money on the Le Batard deal, but regardless it can justify it as a marketing opportunity to turn listeners into gamblers.

4. Where this could lead

Sports media broadcast rights deals with the NFL, MLB and NHL have all just been agreed to and will pretty much be with traditional entities.

Looking ahead 10 to 20 years from now, is it conceivable that one of these gambling companies will become a real player for the rights to major games.

There is likely going to be an evolution from gambling on your phone during events. DraftKings has a deal with DishTV that allows people in states with legalized gambling to bet using their remotes and phones.

It is a bit of a process at the moment, but that technology will only improve and become more immersive.

5. The alternative sports game broadcast

Another one of the transitions in sports television over the next decade will likely be in alternative viewing experiences.

In addition to traditional broadcasts, networks will offer alternative feeds focused on gambling. They have already tried, though they have been ho-hum so far.

There is technology that allows fans to bet instantaneously on everything going on. In Europe, in-game wagering is much bigger than pregame betting. All the leagues in the United States are now embracing it. It seems more of a “when” proposition than an “if.”

6. Who wins?

There is a chance the gambling-media space could have its Cokes and its Pepsis, with multiple formats coexisting, but it also could have Facebook and Friendster, in which there is one ultimate winner. The companies are setting their paths. Le Batard’s deal is one of many more to come.

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