Sports betting and gambling companies have been among the most aggressive players in brand publishing in the past year. While their reasons for investing in media might be similar, however, different gambling companies are taking very different approaches: Some are opting to buy existing properties while others are partnering or building in-house.
Casino operator Penn Entertainment (formerly known as Penn National Gaming) exercised its right last week to buy all of sports media company Barstool Sports. In January 2020 Penn shelled out $163 million to take a stake in Barstool with the understanding that it planned to own it outright by 2023. Penn also bought Score Media in October 2021, in an effort to turn the media and gaming company into a marketing vehicle for its business in Canada.
Elsewhere, other sportsbooks are making their media moves. In 2021, DraftKings bought sports gambling network VSiN and appointed its first-ever chief media officer. And two weeks ago, YouTuber-turned-boxer Jake Paul and sports betting entrepreneur Joey Levy announced they raised $50 million to launch Betr, a micro-betting company that is placing its own bets on an in-house media arm as the way to attract customers.
The impetus for these initiatives is clear: Content is arguably the most cost-efficient way to grow awareness, gain customers and build “sticky” customer relationships in crowded, highly regulated markets. How these companies are going about building media assets varies significantly from one to the next, however:
The acquisition route
Acquisitions have become a more common approach for brands looking to extend their media ambitions. Penn has been acquisition heavy – along with Barstool, it also bought Score Media in October 2021 in an effort to turn the media and gaming company into a marketing vehicle for its business in Canada.
The company has also been investing heavily in proprietary betting technology through Barstool Sportsbook and The Score, creating a flywheel that can attract and retain customers across demographic segments.
Another big consideration: Personality. When Penn Entertainment invested in Barstool, they weren’t just buying the company’s audience, content chops and reach. They were also investing in Barstool founder Dave Portnoy. Portnoy is a divisive, controversial, but popular figure – and he is one of the main drivers of attention, awareness and publicity for Barstool. Some of that attention is negative, to be sure. But even after sexual misconduct allegations against Portnoy came to light, Penn CEO Jay Snowden urged investors to wait and watch, and said they’d stand behind him.
Penn is hoping to leverage Portnoy’s reach and audience to acquire a new cohort of younger customers, a key priority for the company. And Portnoy is all in – most of his net worth is in Penn, which he plans to “take to the moon” post-acquisition.
We saw a similar dynamic play out with Robinhood’s purchase of MarketSnacks in 2019. The company also was able to bring on board Nick Martell and Jack Kramer, the “voices” of Snacks, who then went on to become managing editors at Robinhood. (They’ve since left the company to go independent.)
There are other advantages to acquisitions, including the ability to ramp up quickly by bringing on strong brands with existing audiences, and making the hard job of finding editorial talent much easier.
The in-house play
On the other end of the spectrum from buying a media property is building a brand publication and publishing team in-house. Betr has gone with a largely in-house approach. The company’s CEO, Joey Levy, told Axios that it has hired “emerging content creators,” and will debut 10+ videos a day to begin. Its first show will, of course, feature Jake Paul and his friends, talking about sports and sports betting from their perspectives.
This in-house approach isn’t easy to pull off, and many of the muscles required to build successful media properties aren’t easily built by companies whose core competencies lie elsewhere. Challenges include getting clear buy-in across an organization, the ability to attract and retain high-quality editorial talent, and the ability to define and deliver on a clear editorial mission that speaks successfully to audiences.
For those that succed, however, advantages of building in-house over buying existing properties include not having to deal with the messy business of post-acquisition integration, and potentially a much more cohesive editorial organization feels more part of the main business.
The “partnership” approach
DraftKings’ approach is notable in that it’s as much about straight brand awareness as it is about owned content and customer acquisition. The company acquired sports betting radio and streaming network VSiN in March 2021, and was able to get its brand on betting coverage 24 hours a day. Other than the VSiN acquisition, DraftKings has focused on building owned and operated channels, including creating original content for YouTube.
The DraftKings approach relies more on external talent than the other models above. The company currently works with talent agencies and content creator networks like Meadowlark to launch its shows. These shows are hosted with analysts like Alison Lukan, Shayna Goldman and Sara Civian, comedians such as Alexis Guerreros and Christian Polanco, and celebrity athletes like Mike Golic Jr. and Michael Lombardi. One of its programs is hosted by Gary Vaynerchuk, whose “GaryVee’s Die Hared Dialogue” focuses on culture content, versus hard sports.
“In just over a year, DraftKings has significantly grown its media portfolio,” said Stacie McCollum, vp programming, in a statement in June. “With Meadowlark as a content partner, we are well-positioned to continue to add more new shows to our growing line-up of original programming for fans interested in authentic voices and a modern take on the sports conversation.”
What’s next: For brands looking to build their own publications in-house, key considerations are a focused audience strategy, a strong editorial and content team, and a well-oiled editorial process. See the Brand Publishing Toolkit for further information on the strategies and tactics brands can employ to build successful publishing operations.