Disney and DraftKings.

ESPN and fantasy and sports-betting company DraftKings are on the verge of signing an exclusive partnership, according to Action Network’s Darren Rovell.

Specifics of the deal remain unknown as talks are ongoing. Rovell reports that ESPN’s desire was to find a sportsbook partner willing to rebrand itself with the ESPN name.

Ed Hammond and Crystal Tse at Bloomberg confirmed that the talks are happening behind closed doors and that the potential partnership “would pave the way for the media giant to capitalize on the growing wave of legalized sports betting,”

“We have a great, long-standing relationship with ESPN,” DraftKings told Rovell in a statement. “However, we speak to a variety of companies on a regular basis and don’t comment on the specifics of those conversations.”

ESPN did not comment on the reported talks.

It’s a logical next step for the Worldwide Leader, which has invested in sports gambling via its programming, advertising, and marketing deals, but has yet to fully intertwine itself in actual betting. While parent company Disney played a role in that hesitation, Disney also acquired a stake in DraftKings when it acquired Fox’s entertainment assets in 2019, which surely makes this a much easier pill to swallow.

That said, this isn’t the first time ESPN and DraftKings have been linked in this kind of deal. In 2015, reports said that Disney was ready to make a $250 million investment in the fantasy sports company, upping its valuation to nearly $1 billion. Disney ended up killing that deal, though DraftKings became the official fantasy sports provider for ESPN instead. However, that deal died in 2016 as DraftKings found itself dealing with legal and financial issues. That also led to DraftKings getting funding from a Fox-led group instead, though they wound up writing down that investment by 60 percent in 2016.

Last month, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said on CNBC that while ESPN would never take bets, they could give sports fans “the ability to have a frictionless sports betting potential with not having to have four screens in front of you.”

Meanwhile, ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro recently told Bloomberg that the company wanted to “eliminate friction” for bettors.

“We know that sports fans are craving not just more sports betting content, but they’re craving the ability to actually place bets in a seamless fashion from their online digital sports experiences,” Pitaro said.

[Darren Rovell/Action Network, Bloomberg]

About Sean Keeley

Along with writing for Awful Announcing and The Comeback, Sean is the Editorial Strategy Director for Comeback Media. Previously, he created the Syracuse blog Troy Nunes Is An Absolute Magician and wrote 'How To Grow An Orange: The Right Way to Brainwash Your Child Into Rooting for Syracuse.' He has also written non-Syracuse-related things for SB Nation, Curbed, and other outlets. He currently lives in Seattle where he is complaining about bagels. Send tips/comments/complaints to sean@thecomeback.com.