Recently in an interview with CNBC, Disney CEO Bob Iger left an option open to sell some of its TV assets as it struggles with cord cutting. This included selling part of ESPN to a partner. Now CNBC is reporting that Disney is in talks with the NFL, NBA, and MLB to have them take joint ownership of ESPN along with Disney.
TV networks are seeing their ad revenue drop as advertisers cut back on their spending, hitting Disney hard in its TV business. This, plus the ever-growing popularity of cord cutting, has put extra pressure on Disney recently.
Exactly what networks or TV assets Disney may be open to selling is unknown at this time. Disney has a vast catalog of networks, some from Disney, like FreeForm, and others, like Natgeo, came from its deal to buy 21st Century Fox.
A NBA spokesperson told CNBC that they “have a longstanding relationship with Disney and look forward to continuing the discussions around the future of our partnership.”
According to CNBC the talks with the NFL could include Disney taking a stake in the NFL Network, NFL.com, and RedZone. This could help both sides benefit by giving the NFL access to ESPN productions and Disney access to NFL money.
Disney currently owns 80% of ESPN, and Hearst owns 20%. Disney could easily sell part of ESPN to the NFL, NBA, and MLB and still own a controlling majority of ESPN.
There has also been talk that Disney may be working with Comcast to become a part owner of ESPN. Recently Jessica Reif Ehrich, a Managing Director for Bank of America, says she believes Comcast is the most likely partner to buy part of ESPN in a bigger deal for Comcast’s stake in Hulu. This comes from an interview on The Marchand and Ourand Sports Media Podcast.
For now, we will have to wait and see what happens. Now that ESPN is building its own direct-to-consumer streaming service, it clearly is looking for partners to help make that a reality.