Disney In Talks To Increase Power With Biggest Sports Deal Possible

By Jeffrey Rapaport | Published

It’s a move that could significantly reshape the landscape of sports broadcasting and consolidate even more power into the hands of the House of Mouse. What could further expand Disney’s empire, you ask? Potentially annexing a significant segment of National Football League (NFL) media assets—something Walt Disney Co. is already discussing with the NFL.

Strategic Alignment

Such a development would lead to Disney taking a significant stake in the NFL (specifically NFL Network and Redzone), thus fortifying Mickey Mouse’s subsidiary, ESPN.

The strategic alignment would cement the House of Mouse’s position in the sports broadcasting world and significantly influence the future of sports media rights.

Groundbreaking Deal

The groundbreaking deal–amounting to Disney enriching its enormous sports broadcasting division, ESPN–was first reported by significant media staples like The New York Post and The Atlantic. What’s behind Disney’s move?

Simply put, it is declining affiliate revenue from cable distribution. While Disney bet big on ESPN by purchasing it, the decrease in cable viewership—a global media phenomenon—means decreasing returns on their cable investment. 

Expanded Content Offerings


Thus, Disney’s integration of NFL Media would substantially boost ESPN’s (lagging) portfolio. The acquisition would enhance Disney and ESPN’s ability to attract eyeballs by broadcasting top-rated football games and potentially locking in long-term sports rights. The latter boost to Disney’s cable viewership would be hugely beneficial. 

If the deal advances, the widespread implications for the sport’s broadcasting industry would be difficult to exaggerate, fully merging NFL proprietary content with the streaming world, and vice versa.

The House of Mouse would significantly expand its content offerings with both NFL Network and NFL RedZone under Disney’s management. It would also spearhead innovative changes in how football is broadcasted and consumed. 



To underscore Disney’s potential revolution of the industry, it’s worth emphasizing how, until this deal, NFL media and ESPN were by no means synonymous. Sure, the latter sold content to the former, and both worked together, but the same parent company owned neither. 

Should this deal go down, NFL RedZone’s unique “whip-around” format—which airs clips from various NFL games—could be integrated into platforms like ESPN+, boosting the streaming service’s appeal and lowering its reliance on other sports rights.

Strengthening Ties


Unsurprisingly, the ongoing talks follow an array of initiatives by Disney to expand and strengthen their ties with NFL executives through ESPN programming.

Following orders from Disney, ESPN began simulcasting Monday Night Football games on ABC, in addition to recruiting top announcers like Troy Aikman and Joe Buck from Fox Sports. These moves on the corporate chessboard have already noticeably expanded ESPN’s football audience. 

The innovations don’t halt there. For example, Disney recently introduced ManningCast on ESPN2, featuring–of course–brothers Peyton and Eli Manning. The addition further demonstrates ESPN’s innovative approach to sports broadcasting.

Requires Approval


However, nothing is set in stone, and the talks remain ongoing. 

Especially because the unfinished Disney deal requires approval from NFL owners, who are not entirely committed to selling large swaths of their brand to ESPN and will reportedly be meeting in mid-spring to hammer out their side of the negotiation.

Should they approve—and the deal complete—its finalization could mark one of the most significant shifts in sports media in recent history. 

While many will accuse it of becoming a monopoly, Disney’s increasingly likely acquisition of NFL Media assets would redefine the sports broadcasting landscape. For better or worse, the development would solidify ESPN as a powerhouse in the industry and usher in a new era for sports media collaborations.

Source: Variety