Disney and ESPN shocked the world last week when they struck a deal with Penn Entertainment to get into sports betting. But to one expert who follows ESPN, it’s indicative of how crazy things are getting with the famed sports channel.
“It shows how quickly this ESPN story is moving,” said James Andrew Miller, an investigative journalist and author of Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN, on a podcast with The Press Box. It’s not moving toward definitive answers, but the marketplace is changing and the numbers are changing.”
That Disney would strike a deal with Penn, a reversal of Disney CEO Bob Iger’s reluctance to get into gambling back in 2019, underscores the dire straits facing ESPN. The sports network was once the crown jewel of cable packages, but the shine has rubbed off with so many consumers cutting the cord and opting for streaming options instead. At the same time, advertising has cratered over the last year, cutting off another revenue stream.
“The erosion is happening quicker than people thought,” Miller said during the episode, which came out on Tuesday.
Now Disney needs to decide what to do with ESPN, which spends a lot of money on staff, contracts with different leagues and its own facility in Bristol, Connecticut. Increasingly, the money is makes doesn’t support the business.
The problem, Miller said, is that there isn’t any kind of plan. “Bob (Iger) is looking for a grand strategic vision,” he said, noting he doesn’t know where ESPN goes from here.
Disney has reportedly been in talks to sell part of ESPN to the various leagues, and it’s exploring several different options. Disney is also preparing a standalone streaming option that lets you subscribe to the channel without a cable package.
The only thing that’s a certainty is change is coming.
“The old days are clearly gone,” Miller said.
A spokesperson for Disney wasn’t immediately available for comment.