Disney’s search for potential equity partners in ESPN has reportedly involved three of the biggest entities in all of sports.
A CNBC report says that Disney officials, including CEO Bob Iger and ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro, have held initial talks with the NFL, NBA, and MLB as part of a larger concept: bringing pro sports leagues in as minority partners in the iconic sports network.
The move closely follows Iger’s disclosure that Disney is open to selling part of ESPN to a strategic partner, as the company is, in his words, “dealing head-on with some of our biggest challenges.” Among those challenges is the ongoing cord-cutting that has slashed ESPN’s linear reach from more than 100 million homes in 2011 to the present 72.5 million.
Such a move would bring ESPN even closer to three of its most important pro sports properties. In 2021, the network extended its NFL rights through 2033 in a deal worth about $2.7 billion per year — providing additional game inventory and broad highlight rights to help power extensive amounts of daytime ESPN programming.
The NBA, meanwhile, has been on ESPN continuously since 2002, and the network’s current rights expire in 2025. Even without an equity deal, ESPN has been very interested in extending those rights. ESPN similarly extended its MLB deal in 2021 through 2028.
“We have a longstanding relationship with Disney and look forward to continuing the discussion around the future of our partnership,” the NBA said.