The sports world is eagerly anticipating the unveiling of the new ESPN Bet sportsbook. This, after the sports entertainment leader cut a long-term deal with casino owner PENN Entertainment.
As part of the deal, Penn sold the Barstool Sports brand back to founder Dave Portnoy. The plan now is for the ESPN Bet brand to replace the Barstool Sportsbook. The hope is for ESPN Bet to launch this fall in the 16 states where Penn has sports betting licenses, including Illinois.
One question that has been raised about this transition is what will happen to the Barstool retail sportsbooks currently operating in Illinois? PENN Entertainment is running in-person sports betting at Illinois casinos. Now, they could all be in for a dramatic branding shift in the near future.
PENN CEO: Barstool branding to come down at retail sportsbooks
There isn’t a ton of information on how this rebrand will work exactly. We do know that PENN’s goal is to launch the ESPN Bet product this fall. However, the change from summer to fall is just around the corner, and there is undoubtedly a ton of work that must be done before they launch in the Illinois sports betting market.
During a recent earnings call, PENN Entertainment’s President and CEO Jay Snowden said the transition is still a work in progress.
“I think we have best-in-class retail sportsbooks across the portfolio today, which is awesome,” said Snowden. “We’re going to need to have some time to obviously get the ESPN Bet app launched as well as take down some of the Barstool-specific branding inside of our retail sportsbooks.”
PENN Entertainment currently operates four separate Illinois casinos. Three of them are home to a Barstool retail sportsbook:
- Hollywood Aurora
- Hollywood Joliet
According to revenue reports, Barstool ranks third out of seven operators in both lifetime handle and revenue when it comes to retail-only sportsbooks in Illinois. That is partly due to having three separate retail locations in the state.
Snowden did not mention the Illinois facilities specifically. However, he did say there is a chance that some of their retail sportsbooks don’t take on the ESPN Bet brand.
“We’re still working through ESPN. Folks have not had a chance to visit our properties yet. And so we’re going to go through a process,” said Snowden. “There can potentially be some ESPN-branded retail sportsbooks on plan. And if not, we still have what we believe to be best-in-class destinations on the retail sports betting side and sports bars connected to almost all of them.”
Snowden also said his team is working with Portnoy and the Barstool team to get the transition completed.
Potential hurdles to clear before ESPN Bet can launch in Illinois
The Illinois sports betting scene continues to evolve.
Operators like DraftKings and FanDuel are fully entrenched in the state. Meanwhile, newcomers like Hard Rock and Circa are looking to make some noise once they can officially launch. A switch from the Barstool brand to the ESPN brand could have a massive impact on both online and retail sports betting in The Prairie State.
However, logistical and legal hurdles always need to be cleared before a big sports betting launch. This one is a little different. The idea is that PENN is essentially just changing the name of a sports betting site in states where the operator already has a license.
PENN plans to launch ESPN Bet this fall. But, there is a chance the transition in Illinois could hit some speed bumps. It is expected that the change will need to be approved by the Illinois Gaming Board before any significant change to an online sports betting site or a retail betting location. PlayIllinois contacted the IGB to determine what that process could look like but have not heard back yet.
On the retail side specifically, the rebrand may not happen at the same time as the online relaunch.
Snowden indicated that he would like ESPN officials to be involved in such changes, which could take some time. He also suggested that some of the current Barstool retail sportsbooks may not take on the new ESPN Bet name. So, what will happen to the in-person betting locations that don’t get the ESPN branding remains to be seen.