Disney Reportedly Talked To NFL, NBA, MLB About Equity Partnership In ESPN

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Disney CEO Bob Iger is trying to right the ship, and it sounds like to help out with ESPN, he has turned to some of its biggest partners: the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

It’s no secret that Disney has been having some trouble. What with theme park attendance taking a dip, and the disaster that has been their focus on streaming.

So, recently, Iger discussed possible plans for the company’s TV company assets. These include ABC, FX, and of course ESPN. While selling was brought up, Iger also expressed wanting to find a ‘strategic partner’ for ESPN.

According to CNBC, he’s trying to go this route and has approached the three leagues — all of which already have deals with the company — about the idea.

Iger and ESPN head Jimmy Pitaro have reportedly spoken to the leagues about minority stakes in the network.

As it stands, Disney owns 80% of ESPN while Hearst owns the rest.

“We have a longstanding relationship with Disney and look forward to continuing the discussions around the future of our partnership,” an NBA spokesperson told CNBC.

Disney CEO Bob Iger recently discussed his hopes for finding a strategic partner for ESPN. (Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images)

Iger Made It Clear Disney Wants Partner For ESPN

Iger spoke to CNBC’s David Faber last week and mentioned the company is “bullish” on sports. He also said he hoped a strategic partnership would include both content and distribution opportunities.

Of course, for something like this to work out, there will need to be something in it for the leagues. Right now the NBA is working on its next media rights deal. At the moment, Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery have exclusivity.

However, if that window of exclusivity lapses, maybe there’s a better deal out there for the league, and ESPN gets left hanging. It was recently reported that NBC-Universal wouldn’t mind getting a piece of the next deal.

Conversely, CNBC reports (citing anonymous sources) that the NFL has an interest in finding a partner for its media assets like the NFL Network and NFL RedZone. Maybe the time is right for that to happen.

Or maybe the leagues see the current state of ESPN — including the recent tidal wave of layoffs — and think, “We’ll pass.”

Follow on Twitter: @Matt_Reigle

Written by Matt Reigle

Matt is a University of Central Florida graduate and a long-suffering Philadelphia Flyers fan living in Orlando, Florida. He can usually be heard playing guitar, shoe-horning obscure quotes from The Simpsons into conversations, or giving dissertations to captive audiences on why Iron Maiden is the greatest band of all time.

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