Caesars Is Making A Move In Media, But Which Way Is It Going?

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A little more than a month ago, FrontOfficeSports.com dropped a doozy of a news/rumor item when it reported ESPN’s Adam Schefter was firmly in the crosshairs of Caesars Sportsbook.

Schefter, whose ESPN contract runs out in the summer of 2022, is expected — according to sources in the article — to field offers not only from traditional media companies, but also from Caesars and, potentially, other sportsbooks.

The sources said Caesars is expected to go heavy after Schefter, widely considered to be the ultimate NFL insider, someone able to move betting markets (and DFS lineups) in less than 280 characters at 2 a.m. on Sundays.

Caesars has not been quiet on the talent acquisition front in the months since its rebrand from William Hill, having signed former ESPN announcers Trey Wingo and Kenny Mayne. For its marketing campaign, it also just brought in the entire Manning clan, including ManningCast members Peyton and Eli, their dad and former NFL quarterback Archie, and … the third brother, real estate executive Cooper (who has already appeared with his brothers and father in an objectively entertaining Caesars ad with J.B. Smoove).

But so far, Caesars hasn’t done a ton with that media talent. Wingo hosts Trey’s Trends on the Caesars Sportsbook and Casino YouTube channel. Mayne has a series of betting explainers on the channel. And so far, that’s about it.

Worth noting: At the time of this writing, the Caesars YouTube channel boasts … 410 subscribers. For comparison purposes, the DraftKings channel has over 121,000 subscribers.

So Mayne and Wingo. The surging Manning family. The expected heavy pursuit of Schefter. Makes one wonder: What is Caesars’ long-term media plan? One thing is for certain: It is probably not content with 410 YouTube subscribers.

Media is all the rage

Caesars is far from alone when it comes to trying to break into the media content game. DraftKings is clearly the market leader in this effort, purchasing VSiN and becoming the distributor of The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz. Bally Sports bought FOX Sports stations all across the nation. Penn National Gaming teamed up with Barstool Sports. PointsBet hired longtime Chicago Tribune columnist Teddy Greenstein. FanDuel has The Pat McAfee Show.

The list goes on, and the list will just continue to grow as the months and years roll on.

Simply put: The line between the media and sportsbooks is getting increasingly blurry, and there’s clearly a major move for all sportsbooks to — one way or another — get themselves a major media presence.

“There’s a nationwide hunt for premium talent with established followings because they present a huge opportunity for sports betting brands to leverage their likeness and content to attract future customers,” said Jason Barrett, the president of Barrett Sports Media.

He points specifically to the signing of the Mannings as a case in point.

“Their presence is especially valuable for Caesars due to their global marketability, the rise in popularity of the ManningCast, and the family’s connection to a number of states where sports betting has either already been legalized or is on the verge of it,” Barrett said. “Endorsements remain extremely valuable in advertising, and to have the Manning family featured in campaigns recommending Caesars to sports fans is powerful.”

Representatives of the company did not respond to email requests for an interview, but Caesars may simply be content to acquire talent in hopes of acquiring more customers. And if it stops with former anchors like Mayne and Wingo and ex-football playing (and real estate executive-ing) Mannings, so be it. It’s a reasonably sound strategy as things go right now.

“With FanDuel and DraftKings leveraging their daily fantasy user base to drive their sportsbook user base, other sportsbooks are playing catch-up,” said Sam Yardley, the executive vice president, North America, for Two Circles, a sports marketing firm stretching across two continents. “And at the moment Caesars hasn’t been able to do that despite the brand that they have. All of these companies are trying to build a funnel of users, and the best way they’ve found so far is partnering with media companies or partnering with talent.”

But if the Schefter rumors become reality, it could reasonably seem like the company has its sights set higher than on simply gaining market share. There’s a possibility it’s trying to jumpstart its own media arm.

“With some of their recent additions, Caesars could have the firepower to play in the content space, but the question is whether or not they want to become a content company and assume all the costs, challenges and responsibilities that come with producing programming on a daily basis,” Barrett said. “As exciting as it is to own, create and distribute content, it’s also very expensive and comes with additional pressures. The obvious question I’m sure they’ve discussed is whether being a content company is more or less advantageous than utilizing everyone’s else’s airwaves to market their brand, influencers and messaging.”

Yardley echoes the sentiment. 

“I think it’s really difficult — you need a lot of manpower to sustain that,” he said. “Let’s say just a website, doing videos, you still need a team of 10 people doing just editorial, and you have to build that audience from scratch, and differentiate yourself from the likes of Barstool and ESPN and VSiN. They’d end up with the same challenge — trying to build an audience.”

Yardley sees a better path for the company.

“The logical steps, if I were them, is how do we partner with someone with an existing audience and drive people to our channels,” he said. “And the talent we’ve acquired can fit into that by supporting that strategy. It’s difficult to do with talent in isolation.”

ESPN looms in the shadows

While Caesars charts its course, there’s still the 800-pound gorilla — or in this case, the $3 billion brand — in the room: ESPN.

On a recent earnings call for Disney (ESPN’s parent), CEO Bob Chapek said the company is “moving towards a greater presence in online sports betting” and is pursuing it “aggressively.”

In recent months, the rumor mill has been churning with the idea that ESPN is willing to partner with an existing sportsbook on a branding deal that would net the Mouse some $3 billion.

And which sportsbook is being bandied about as the partner? According to a Wall Street Journal report, Caesars and DraftKings are leading the contenders.

And wouldn’t that be the irony of ironies: Mayne, Wingo, and perhaps even Schefter under contract with Caesars, but partnered right back with the ESPN brand.

“ESPN would make a ton of sense for Caesars,” said Yardley. “Obviously they have partnerships with DraftKings and others, and a lot of advertising is rolled into that, but there is still a big space for native sports betting content on ESPN.com, on its app, and on its broadcast channels, and Caesars can own that space. And then you’ve got ESPN-affiliated talent that can support that message and carry it out on the channels. So the ticker on the ManningCast has Caesars odds, and Peyton’s Picks on ESPN, and shows branded with Caesars … it makes sense. A ton of sense.”  

Barrett agrees, but does note Caesars has the ability — if it chooses — to go at it alone.

“If Caesars feels it’s beneficial to their business to go all-in, they’d be in good position with some of the notable hires they’ve announced, but it’ll take more than a few strong names to become a sports betting content machine,” Barrett said. “Fortunately for them, they have a strong brand name, and the type of capital needed to pursue that path if they choose to.”

Clearly, there are a ton of moving parts here, but one thing is clear: Caesars, in one way, shape, or form, is positioning itself to become a major media player. Whether it does this via partnerships or by attempting to create its own media brand remains to be seen.

Photo: Shutterstock

Author: Wanda Peters