During a segment on ESPN’s Daily Wager broadcast last Tuesday, which aired ahead of Game 1 of the World Series, host Doug Kezirian asked the hosts of ESPN’s Baseball Tonight to weigh in on which player would hit the game’s first home run, a popular proposition bet on the contest.
The sportsbooks favored Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts at -300.
ESPN analyst Mark Teixeira, a former major league first baseman, three-time All-Star, and World Series champion, seemed to like those odds.
A few years ago, a mix between sports betting and the national sports network’s traditional programming would have been shunned. But times have changed now that legal sports betting is taking place in 18 states and Washington, D.C. The activity has been embraced by traditional sports networks and professional sports leagues.
“I think it would be foolish to not utilize great resources at ESPN, understanding the connection and the perspective,” Kezirian said. “We’re not asking them to break down the value of a half-point on the spread. We believe our viewers want to hear a former star athlete talk about his perspective. It’s interesting and good content.”
In September, ESPN moved Daily Wager, an hour-long betting news and information program, to the network’s new studio at the Linq Resort on the Las Vegas Strip. The 6,000-square-foot-facility includes three studios and features 12 cameras, including two exterior robotic cameras. ESPN plans to center its sports wagering programming from Las Vegas.
The main studio looks out onto the Las Vegas Strip with Linq’s sister property, Caesars Palace, across Las Vegas Boulevard. Kezirian, who spent seven years as a sports anchor for the ABC affiliate in Las Vegas before joining ESPN in 2012 as an anchor on SportsCenter, said the audience tunes into Daily Wager because he and his fellow hosts and analysts discuss information about the upcoming games.
“We’re a sports show about sports betting,” Kezirian said following Tuesday’s broadcast. “It’s not a 900-number where you call in and we give you our pick. People watch the show because they want to see us talk about the game.”
Kezirian moved back to Las Vegas this summer when ESPN announced its sports betting programming would be centered in the new studio, which is a partnership with Caesars Entertainment. His director and segment producers are located in the ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut.
Having the Las Vegas Strip as the broadcast’s backdrop lends to the legitimacy of the show’s content. Kezirian said the location elevates the quality of the programming. It allows him to meet with sports betting sources in-person to provide better stories.
“When you move to the center of the ecosystem of any industry, it adds to the authenticity for the consumer,” he said. “There is something inherent in having the Strip behind you on the set that adds to the credibility of being in the heart of the action and elevates the quality of the show.”
Broadcasting and betting partnerships
Caesars and ESPN announced plans for the studio in May 2019. An ESPN spokesman said Caesars built the third-floor location above the Linq’s casino with ESPN’s oversight. He declined to discuss financial terms per the network’s corporate policy.
ESPN announced several sports betting partnerships in September shortly after the studio launched, including a deal with DraftKings to become the network’s exclusive daily fantasy sports provider and co-exclusive sportsbook link-out provider.
Meanwhile, Caesars and sportsbook operator William Hill US are prominent in the Daily Wager broadcasts. Caesars Sportsbooks by William Hill provides all the betting odds featured on the show.
ESPN expanded its sports betting-themed content into multiple platforms with the launch of a new digital show, Bet. New episodes will be available three days a week on the ESPN app, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube and includes content originating from the Linq studio.
Kezirian has worked from all of ESPN’s studios – Bristol, Los Angeles and New York – but he’s quickly grown partial to Las Vegas.
“They put in all the bells and whistles. I’m incredibly grateful for this opportunity,” he said.
An evolving program
Tennessee could launch legal sports betting as soon as next week, while three additional states are expected to roll out the activity next year. Voters in three states will consider sports betting referendums on Nov. 3.
Kezirian knows the audience for Daily Wager is growing and could conceivably include half of all U.S. states by the end of 2021.
“People are curious about this space,” he said. “The way we do the show makes it inclusive, so you don’t have to be a hard-core bettor. We look at sports betting in a tasteful and mature way.”
As with college and professional sports, and life in general, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has hampered the first two months of Daily Wager’s programing.
COVID-19 health and safety protocols have limited the ability to have multiple on-set guests.
For now, Kezirian can be joined on the set by a second host only. On Tuesday’s show, sports betting and fantasy sports expert Tyler Fulghum joined Kezirian on set, while sports betting experts Chris “The Bear” Fallica, Preston Johnson, and Anita Marks joined from other locations through a video platform.
Sports betting analyst Joe Fortenbaugh is also located in Las Vegas with Fulghum and Kezirian.
Eventually, Kezirian plans to take advantage of being on the Strip and include sportsbook operators and other betting experts in the programming.
He also wants to include Las Vegas’ new place in the professional sports world. The ESPN studio is less than two miles north on the Strip from T-Mobile Arena, home of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights, and less than four miles north from Allegiant Stadium, home of the NFL’s Las Vegas Raiders.
“Just a few years ago, you couldn’t advertise Las Vegas during the Super Bowl. Now Vegas has an NFL team,” Kezirian said. “We’ve gone from zero to 60 pretty quickly in this (sports betting) space.”
Howard Stutz is the executive editor of CDC Gaming Reports. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow @howardstutz on Twitter.
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