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ESPN Readies NBA Basketball ‘BetCast’ for Fans of Sports Wagering (EXCLUSIVE)

espn-betcast-NBA-basketball
Courtesy of ESPN

As more states start to allow residents to take part in sports wagering, ESPN has come up with a game presentation just for them. Executives call it the “BetCast.”

On Wednesday at 7 p.m., the Disney sports-media giant will air an alternate feed — called a “Daily Wager Special” after the company’s sports-betting program — of an NBA game that pits the Brooklyn Nets against the Philadelphia 76ers. Viewers who want to hear about the free throws and three-pointers can watch on the company’s flagship cable network. Those eager to discuss spreads and odds  can watch sports-betting analysts cover the game on ESPN2 and ESPN Plus with customized graphics (a sample design is pictured, above).

“We know the sports fan is evolving in how they use our games and our information, and we need to evolve with them, and provide them with alternative experiences” says Mike Shiffman, vice president of basketball production for ESPN, in an interview. “We hope by giving them more options that we serve them better and we grow our audience.” ESPN tested a betting-focused presentation for an NFL Wild Card game, but this marks the first time the company is trying it with the NBA.

Like many sports-media outlets, ESPN has increasingly paid attention to sports wagering, which Morgan Stanley in 2019 projected might generate nearly $7 billion in revenue by 2025, compared with $833 million in 2019. Media companies ranging from Fox Corporation to NBCUniversal have formed alliances with sportsbooks and casinos and are testing a variety of interactive wagering games that are, in some cases, even being applied to mainstream TV fare.

The “BetCast” will feature Doug Kezirian, Joe Fortenbaugh and Tyler Fulghum, some of the sportsbetting analysts from ESPN’s “Daily Wager” show, who will hold forth from Las Vegas. Kendrick Perkins, an ESPN NBA analyst, will also take part in the “BetCast” coverage. There will be a pre-game and halftime show devoted to the latest developments around wagering.

“This won’t have a strict play-by-play analysis,” says Scott Clark, senior coordinating producer of sports betting and fantasy sports for ESPN, in an interview. “It will be more conversational. It will begin through pre-game odds, live odds, prop bets and we will discuss betting strategies and approaches. We will mix in basketball conversation as well, but it will really run the gamut of sports betting action points.”

The show is just the latest in a cascade of bespoke game coverage to spill from ESPN in the past few years. The company tested a “KidsCast” in 2019, with teens giving play by play for the Little League World Series. In June of that year, the media outlet tried streaming a version of Game 2 of the NBA Finals aimed at younger viewers and visible only through the ESPN mobile app. During the game, Katie Nolan and others were superimposed at the bottom of the screen and were able to hold forth in less formal fashion as stats and emojis popped up over the game action above them.

During the most recent NFL season, ESPN tried “megacasts” of “Monday Night Football” that offered different viewers broadcasts tailored to their interests. The company even tried an NFL game on sister cable outlet Freeform, which aims for younger viewers interested in serialized drama. ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro recently suggested the company is even considering a “megacast” for a Super Bowl broadcast to which Disney won recently won rights in negotiations with the NFL.

But ESPN executives believe sports-betting information is likely to become a part of many game broadcasts in the future. In addition to the NFL and the NBA, ESPN has a sizable rights deal with Major League Baseball, and recently snared the bulk of NHL rights for the 2021-2022 season.

“We know that even if the [outcome of the] game is not in doubt, we will have plenty to talk about from a sports-betting standpoint,” says Clark. “It does add an additional level of interest to the game and it can keep people even when games aren’t close.” He hopes ESPN will expand the “BetCast” to others sports and expand its scope next season with the NFL.