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Saturday, March 2, 2024

Disney Lifts Curtain on ESPN Financials Amid Sports TV’s Uncertainties

  • ESPN's Profits Drop 20% Over First Nine Months Of 2023.
  • Disney broke out ESPN’s results for the first time on Wednesday.
ESPN microphone on press table
Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

For decades, ESPN has been the cash cow for the Walt Disney Co. 

But the one-two punch of falling cable subscribers and rising sports rights fees has taken a toll on ESPN’s revenue and profits. 

Investors are getting a clear-eyed look at ESPN’s critical contribution to the Mouse House for the first time. Revenues for Disney’s sports division were $13.2 billion over the first nine months of fiscal 2023, a 1.3% drop compared to the same period in FY 2022 ($13.37 billion). 

The numbers — which hadn’t been broken out independently in the past — may help explain why Disney chairman Bob Iger is seeking a strategic partner/investor for ESPN.

Disney’s sports media business had an operating income of $1.48 billion for the nine months ending July 1, according to the filing. That’s a 20% profit drop over the same period a year ago ($1.85 billion). 

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During the summer, ESPN laid off prominent on-air talents such as Keyshawn Johnson, Max Kellerman, Steve Young, Suzy Kolber, and Jalen Rose to cut costs. 

It also declined to renew the contracts of talents like Vince Carter, Rob Ninkovich, Chris Chelios, and Neil Everett.

Meanwhile, ESPN is facing negotiations to retain expensive media rights to the NBA and College Football Playoff. The network is also paying the NFL $2.7 billion annually through 2033 for the rights to “Monday Night Football,” the Pro Bowl, playoffs games, and its first two Super Bowls.

Disney owns 80% of ESPN, which offers eight branded TV channels and the direct-to-consumer ESPN+ platform. Hearst owns the other 20%.

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