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ESPN CEO John Skipper did not mince words when asked to clarify his position on the on-going debate regarding whether he believes daily fantasy sites like DraftKings and FanDuel are gambling or games of skill.
“I am convinced that they are games of skill, but it is not my doing to figure out the regulatory part of this,” Skipper said emphatically Wednesday morning at the annual Sports Business Journal Sports Media & Technology conference in New York City. “I’m not in either one of those businesses, so that’s what I think, but I’m not positive that that really matters.”
Skipper took part in a 30-minute Q&A, and spoke passionately on a variety of timely ESPN topics, including the recent ESPN layoffs, ESPN’s role in the coverage of Deflategate, and the overall narrative that ESPN is in decline.
Regarding daily fantasy, Skipper noted that ESPN has enjoyed a “robust” advertising relationship with both DraftKings and FanDuel, despite the fact that the Worldwide Leader did not choose to invest in the sites.
“We decided not to invest,” Skipper said. “I’m not going to be transparent here as to why we did or did not, but we are happy with our position. Our role there is to grow our overall business and enjoy a robust advertising relationship, and I’m satisfied with that.”
Skipper also noted that ESPN is paying close attention to the ongoing legal battles DraftKings and FanDuel are facing. On October 5, The New York Times reported that a DraftKings employee had won $350,000 playing daily fantasy on rival site FanDuel. The controversy has led to widespread calls for regulation into the industry, and many have compared the current regulations to the wild west due to the lack of oversight. Following the NYT piece, both sites have banned employees from playing daily fantasy.
“We do pay attention to what’s going on, as there’s been a lot of noise,” Skipper said. “I know [CEOs] Nigel Eccels at FanDuel and Jason Robins at DraftKings very well, they’re focused on making sure their activities are performed under integrity and that fans can have confidence in those activities when they do participate.”
According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, 18 lawsuits have been filed against the two sites, most of which are class action suits. Both New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York federal prosecutor Preet Bahara have also begun to look into the practices of the sites.
“I’m confident that they will do the things they need to do to sure that up, although we will watch what goes on there and, if necessary, adjust out activity accordingly,” Skipped added.
For right now, Skipper says that ESPN plans to continue a strong and mutually beneficial relationship with the sites.
“Our principle position in fantasy is accepting advertising, and that’s been a very satisfying experience,” he said, which drew laughter from the audience, as the sites have nearly monopolized sports advertisement in the past months.
“We’ve accepted a lot of advertising,” Skipper said with a smile.