Disney Targets Young Fans During Growing Gambling Epidemic

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Assorted Disney villains gambling around a table

Credit: Inside the Magic

The Walt Disney Company has finally decided to get in on the lucrative sports gambling business, and all reports suggest it will end up getting its youthful fan base into deep financial risks.

Bob Iger in front of the Disney logo
Credit: Disney

Disney CEO Bob Iger recently reversed his previous, very firmly stated position on gambling, in which he stated he did not want to potentially taint the iconic media company’s family-friendly image. However, the financial prospects of the company have changed after a slew of box office flops, and now Disney-owned ESPN has launched its own sports gambling brand, EPSN Bet.

The massive gambling corporation PENN Entertainment has partnered with EPSN to launch a new betting service, scheduled to launch sometime in the fall. For the privilege of utilizing the valuable and prestigious ESPN brand, PENN is paying Disney $2 billion over the course of ten years, which will certainly cover quite a few flops like Strange World (2022) and Lightyear (2022).

Clip from 'Lightyear' Credit Disney
Credit: Disney

Related: Walt Disney World Announces Lineup For 2023 ESPN College Basketball Invitational

Disney and Gambling

For years, the Walt Disney Company has avoided the tricky subject of gambling, even as sports-related betting services like FanDuel and DraftKings have become multi-billion dollar companies.

However, under former Disney CEO Bob Chapek, the company began advertising gambling services on ESPN and hosting The Daily Wager, a sports bet analysis show. Now ESPN Bet is about to get the House of Mouse directly into the very profitable sports-betting world.

Bob Chapek at DLP Avengers Campus.

Younger Gambling Becoming a Problem

Bob Iger directly stated in a recent earnings call that the move into sports gambling was an attempt to get younger viewers into ESPN (per THR), saying, “[W]e believe there’s an opportunity here to significantly grow engagement with ESPN consumers, particularly young consumers…Penn.

Iger continued, saying, “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 liked the fact that Penn is going to use this as a growth engine for their business. And that we actually believe and trust in their ability to, in this partnership, grow their business nicely while we grow ours.”

ESPN Layoffs

However, researchers are increasingly concerned that easy-to-manage apps and brands like ESPN Bet are hooking youthful audiences into risky gambling habits. Lia Nower at Rutgers University’s Center for Gambling Studies says (per Wired), “Sports betting is really appealing to a younger demographic, to kids, to teens… The younger ones are much more likely to gamble in-game, which is more dangerous because you don’t have that cool head.”

The National Council on Problem Gambling reports that risky gambling habits are increasing by leaps and bounds among adults, in large part due to the ease of regulations on sports gambling.

Related: Disney Removes Failed ‘Lightyear’ Film From Streaming Platform

Disney’s Youth Base

Mickey Mouse in front of the Cinderella Castle inside the Magic Kingdom with a couple of children
Credit: Walt Disney World Resort

Famously, the Walt Disney Company has a massive following in the youth of America, with theme parks like Walt Disney World and Disneyland being specifically designed to attract millions every year. It is not surprising that there would be concern that the company’s move into gambling could potentially overlap with a vulnerable youth base.

For now, we will just have to wait and see how Bob Iger’s experiment with gambling affects Disney in the future.

Should Disney and ESPN be partnering with gambling services? Let us know in the comments below.

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