Updated Mar 19, 2024 - Technology

Exclusive: WNBA likely included in ESPN's NBA rights renewal deal

Jimmy Pitaro sits while speaking with his hands in front of him. A backdrop says AXIOS over a blue background.

Jimmy Pitaro speaks during Axios' What's Next Summit on March 19. Photo: Ronald Flores for Axios

ESPN chief Jimmy Pitaro expects the WNBA to be part of a media rights renewal deal with the NBA, he told Axios' Sara Fischer at the annual What's Next Summit in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

Why it matters: The WNBA's 2023 season was its most-watched in more than 20 years and is part of a larger boom in women's sports.

The big picture: ESPN is under pressure from the declining pay-TV business and seeks to expand to younger audiences by securing crucial media rights.

  • Pitaro said he sees both the NBA as "ascending" and attracting younger audiences — perhaps even more so with the WNBA.
  • "Women's sports have been a priority for decades, long before I got to ESPN," he said, adding that ESPN takes pride in how it's helped their growth.

Between the lines: The network has sought to appease cord-cutters through its own streaming services, ESPN+, and a more ambitious offering in the works. Disney also teamed up with Fox and Warner Bros. Discovery for a combined sports streaming service.

  • Pitaro said it wants the services to appeal to the more than 50 million non-pay TV households who are sports fans.
  • A price range of $40 to $50 per month for the joint streaming service "feels right" but a decision has not been made, he said.
  • "This is really about simplicity, ease of access. What we hear about every single day from our sports fans is some frustration in terms of fragmentation, discoverability," he said.

What's next: ESPN also is in "active conversations" for a strategic partner, Pitaro said. One of the reasons is for "maximizing the distribution" of its content, which likely means a partnership with a Big Tech firm, he said.

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