ESPN has been in talks with some of the most powerful leagues in professional sports, including the National Football League, National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, about acquiring a minority stake in its business.
Three people familiar with the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private discussions, said the cable network, which is controlled by The Walt Disney Company, has been in exploratory talks with unions as it tries to figure its way forward in the streaming era.
Disney declined to comment.
Disney CEO Robert A CNBC interview Last week the company was “looking for strategic partners” who could help ESPN with distribution or content. “But we want to stay in the sports business,” said Mr. Iger, whose contract with Disney was recently extended through 2026.
Selling a stake in ESPN could give Disney a cash infusion as it faces expensive renewals with sports leagues including the NBA, which are sure to command a premium for the rights to show its games in the coming years. Hearst, owner of magazines such as Cosmopolitan and information services such as the Fitch Group, owns a minority stake in ESPN.
ESPN — once a profit center for Disney, which acquired the network in 1995 — has come under pressure in recent years as viewers cut the cable cord in favor of streaming services. Meanwhile, the cost of sports rights has been skyrocketed by new entrants including Apple, Amazon and YouTube. Trying to outbid wealthy tech companies is a daunting prospect for cable networks, whose businesses are in irreversible decline.
Disney executives emphasized that ESPN’s future lay in broadcasting. bloomberg And The Wall Street Journal I recently reported that the sports network was laying the groundwork to make its primary channel, which has long been only on cable, available to streaming viewers. That would create a turning point for traditional television distributors, who have avoided regression by offering live sports to cable subscribers.
CNBC I mentioned earlier that the professional sports leagues were in talks to acquire a stake in ESPN.
Disney has also faced pressure from a series of activist investors, including Trian Fund Management. Company founder Nelson Peltz, who planned to lobby for Disney to improve its succession planning, called off a fight for a board seat this year. The company has approximately 6.4 million Disney shares, said a person familiar with the size of the holdings, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters.
Brooks Barnes Contribute to the preparation of reports.