Last week, the sports media giant quietly began announcing college football point spread betting news as part of its regular Saturday College Football Gameday coverage.
To Europeans and Australians, the move must seem tame to the point of absurdity, after all, their airwaves have been inundated with sports betting coverage for years.
For Americans, however, the move is a seismic shift that suggests a serious softening towards an activity that’s every bit as popular as it is illegal.
For its part, ESPN seemed to make the shift in sports betting gear as quietly as possible. The network refused to provide anyone for an interview on the subject with USA Today, though they did release a short statement explaining their actions saying:
We recognize that fans are increasingly interested in this conversation and that millions engage in legal sports betting. Our coverage has mirrored that larger trend in recent years and this is another step…Our mission is to serve fans and we believe this is consistent with that.
While rolling point spreads and Cover Alrert! graphics may be popular with college football fans, they’re a big concern for college football big wigs like SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey who told USA Today:
There is an existing concern about the inexorable march toward gambling being more and more central to sport. It has clearly gotten more momentum based on messaging out of the NBA last year. We have to be mindful of the realities of the culture developing around us.
While Sankey and his peers may be concerned about the march towards a more reasonable attitude towards sports betting, they probably won’t be able to convince ESPN to dial it down a few notches.
ESPN is literally a cash cow that produces tens of millions of dollars in revenue for big league schools. Last year their deal with the power five conferences pulled in $ 50 million in revenue for the SEC, Big 12, Big 10, Pac 12 and ACC.
It should come as no surprise that ESPN’s shifting attitude is fueled, in part, by the explosive growth of daily fantasy sports sites like DraftKings and Fan Duel. Their rapid ascension, and obvious connection to gambling, have clearly changed the way Americans, and the media companies that serve them, view sports betting.
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