To spin off, or not to spin off? That is the question that Disney has been struggling with in regard to their flagship live sports linear channel ESPN. The network, which carries such ubiquitous sports programs as “SportsCenter” and “Monday Night Football” would instantly become one of the most popular entertainment properties available if it were sold to a third party, but it would be expensive as the price tags for live sports rights continue to climb at alarming rates.
Selling off ESPN is a conversation that has been ongoing at Disney for over a year. However, chatter around the topic seemed to die earlier this summer, as it was reported that Disney CEO Bob Chapek was out on the idea of selling ESPN, and was focused on growing the success of ESPN+ instead.
However, a letter from activist investor Dan Loeb reignited the conversation last month. Amongst other proposed changes — including buying out Comcast's third of Hulu ahead of schedule — Loeb urged Disney to spin off ESPN to another company. Disney has been quiet on the subject since getting Loeb’s letter, but Disney’s EVP and CFO Christine McCarthy provided some clarity earlier this week at the Bank of America Media, Communications, and Entertainment Conference.
“We like the hand we have with ESPN and the way we have integrated it into our product offerings,” McCarthy said. “As a management team, we always look at our assets and look at them, is our portfolio made up of the right group of assets? ESPN is a great business, and it is fully integrated into how we think about delivering entertainment with compelling content to consumers.”
McCarthy did not completely shut the door on the potential of future changes in regards to ESPN, however. CEO Bob Chapek said earlier this year that a standalone ESPN streaming service would be “the ultimate fan offering.” Disney is certainly thinking of ways to launch ESPN as a standalone streamer, but as of now, company execs appear to be convinced that there’s no reason not to keep it under the Disney umbrella.
“We always look at are there other alternatives where we would be better off doing something different,” McCarthy said. “And we’ve gone down that route very deliberately and rigorously with my finance team and strategy teams.”
If Disney were to have sold off ESPN, the ideal time has probably passed. With the recent financial pullback across the entertainment — and, particularly, streaming — industry, the thirst for big swings seems to have been quenched for the time being. While owning the rights to broadcast live sporting events remains vital for many linear and streaming outlets, they are also becoming astronomically expensive, likely pricing out many cost-conscious conglomerates.
However, that leaves the possibility that ESPN’s linear content could be folded into ESPN+ very much in play. With each new rights deal, Disney has included provisions for the eventuality that games and matches will be available to stream; but the question remains, when will that happen for all of ESPN’s catalog of sports rights?
ESPN+ is a live TV streaming service that gives access to thousands of live sporting events, original shows like Peyton’s Place, the entire library of 30 for 30, E:60, The Last Dance, as well exclusive written analysis from top ESPN insiders.
The service can be subscribed for US$9.99 / month per month or annually for US$99.99 / year.
You will get a daily out-of-market game from MLB, and every out-of-market NHL with NHL Power Play (previously NHL.TV). For NFL Fans, they have an exclusive NFL game, and simulcast select Monday Football games.
The service has some of the most attractive soccer coverage including Bundesliga, LaLiga, FA Cup, UEFA Nations League, EFL Championship, EFL Carabao Cup, Eredevise and more.
College sports fans will be able to watch thousands of games and events including football, basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, track & field, gymnastics, swimming & diving, lacrosse, wrestling, volleyball, golf, and more.
For boxing and UFC fans, the service offers Top Rank boxing and will be the home of 15 exclusive UFC events.
ESPN+ now includes exclusive insights from analysts like Mel Kiper and Todd McShay (which used to be part of ESPN Insider), as well as premium Fantasy Tools & PickCenter.