ESPN continues to spark interest in an equity stake as Verizon reportedly discusses a broad-based agreement with the sports media giant.
Disney-owned ESPN has been in preliminary talks with Verizon, one of its key distributors, according to The Information. The company joins a list of potential partners including the NFL, NBA, and MLB.
In Verizon’s case, the talks are said to have centered on the development of a new ESPN streaming service. Disney CEO Bob Iger said a full, direct-to-consumer version of the network is “not a matter of if, but when.”
Verizon boasts more than 92.5 million wireless subscribers and is deepening its existing involvement with the NFL, offering a wide range of potential business combinations.
Iger disclosed last month that the company is open to selling part of ESPN to a strategic partner, as the company is “dealing head-on with some of our biggest challenges.” Among those 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.
More recently, ESPN has seen subscriber growth for ESPN+ stall, at least temporarily. Iger said during Disney’s earnings call last week that the company is “not necessarily looking for a cash infusion” in the equity sale talks, but rather “partners that are going to help ESPN transition to a [direct-to-consumer] model. That can come in the form of content, or distribution and marketing support, or both.”
Disney’s deliberation in this space is being supported by former colleagues Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs, who are now back in consulting roles the company, working with ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro and Iger.