Much discussion has surrounded the merger of the USFL and XFL, now under the United Football League (UFL) umbrella. The UFL has solidified its broadcasting partnerships, relying on FOX and ESPN. FOX’s involvement stems from its ownership of the USFL, while ESPN had previously secured a multi-year deal with the XFL.
Following the successful merger, rumors have surfaced suggesting that the NFL is considering acquiring a stake in ESPN.
In a July 2023 CNBC interview, Disney CEO Bob Iger hinted at the possibility of selling some TV assets due to challenges posed by cord-cutting. This included the potential sale of a portion of ESPN to a partner. Subsequently, reports emerged of Disney engaging in discussions with the NFL, NBA, and MLB for a joint ownership arrangement involving the network.
The latest development, as reported by the New York Post, reveals advanced talks between ESPN and the NFL. The proposed deal involves the NFL acquiring a stake in ESPN, granting the network control over the NFL Network and other related media properties. CNBC initially disclosed talks including Disney taking a stake in the NFL Network, NFL.com, and RedZone. This strategic move aims to benefit both parties, with the NFL gaining access to ESPN productions and Disney tapping into NFL revenue. The Wall Street Journal also suggested the inclusion of the NFL+ service in the deal with Disney.
Currently holding an 80% ownership of ESPN, Disney could sell part of it to the NFL and NBA while retaining a controlling majority. The influx of NFL funds could aid ESPN in finalizing its new streaming service. Furthermore, a potential partnership might offer exclusive NFL content to ESPN streaming service subscribers.
As ESPN progresses in developing its direct-to-consumer streaming platform, the company appears actively seeking partnerships. Disney’s target launch for the ESPN streaming service is reportedly set for 2025, leaving the outcome of these discussions to unfold in the meantime.
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