The sports streaming war is heating up and Apple could make a major move by purchasing ESPN in 2024, according to a prediction made by Robert Ourand of Sports Business Journal on the Marchand & Ourand podcast. During the podcast Ourand said the following:
“Think 2024, right before the NBA negotiation takes place. ESPN desperately wants to keep the NBA. You have some of these big digital companies that want to get the NBA. My call of the year, 2024, Apple wants to get involved and they’re going to buy ESPN from Disney.”
In recent months, there have been reports of Disney wanting to spin off ESPN, as the company shifts its focus to digital platforms — many of ESPN’s contracts are tied up long term to linear TV models. With Apple looking to expand their sports offering, buying ESPN would be a no-brainer and give the company a leg up, as more people become passionate about sports they didn’t have access to before streaming.
“They (Apple) have the pocketbook, to be able to buy the biggest sports media company there is, and that will be Apple’s entry into sports. It will jet fuel Apple TV+, Apple will then be the biggest sports media company, including Amazon, in the country,” Ourand said on the podcast.
With ESPN having its own in-house production and an abundance of contracts with different leagues, this would make Apple the go-to place for sports. Add in Apple’s ecosystem of devices and the technology company already has the infrastructure to get sports directly in the hands of people.
Currently, Apple’s foray into sports includes a multi-year first-look deal with Meadowlark Media, which will include “premium documentaries and unscripted series” from the world of sports. A four-part docuseries about Magic Johnson will be available to stream on Apple TV+ soon.
Amazon vs. Apple in the Arena of Sports
As Ourand acknowledged, Apple’s biggest competitor in the digital sports media landscape is Amazon, as both companies look to make a giant leap in the world of sports. Amazon become the first all-digital package in NFL history and will become the exclusive home of Thursday Night Football in 2022. It has been reported that Amazon has taken the lead in a bid for a stake in NFL Media’s properties, which would make them a serious contender due to the NFL’s popularity.
As sports leagues transition to a digital world, there have been more reports of Amazon and Apple in talks of gaining media rights. Major League Soccer is reportedly searching for a media right’s deal worth $300 million per year when the 2023 season begins. Amazon and Apple have been linked to acquiring the streaming rights of the league that appeals to a younger demographic.
Like the MLS, the NFL is looking to expand in the digital frontier. NFL Sunday Ticket, which the NFL considers “a streaming product,” will be looking for a digital partner. Many services have reportedly shown interest, including ESPN. However, back in September of 2021, Apple was the NFL’s favorite to land Sunday Ticket. Of course, nothing is set in stone as of yet, with Amazon’s partnership with the league growing, they could make a move on the NFL’s out-of-market service. NFL commissioner Roger Goddell did mention that Sunday Ticket “might” be included in the NFL Media sale. Amazon’s established relationship with the NFL could help if things should turn into a bidding war with Apple.
As far as ESPN goes, Amazon has an interest in the ManningCast, which currently airs on ESPN2. If Ourand’s prediction doesn’t come to fruition then it would make sense for Amazon to pounce on ESPN to bolster Prime Video’s sporting options.
If Disney does end up selling ESPN then it will be interesting to see which tech giant goes all-in on the sports media conglomerate. Apple may have the deeper pockets but Amazon is trying to gain ground by establishing relationships within the sports industry. With the game clock ticking, only one tech company will be able to victoriously walk out of the sports streaming arena.