Axios Pro Exclusive Content

ESPN searches for strategic partner amid uncertain future

Tim Baysinger
Jul 31, 2023

Photo: Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Disney's plans for ESPN are no clearer today than they were earlier this month when Bob Iger said they wanted to find a strategic partner to help manage the fading TV sports giant.

Why it matters: ESPN has been a cash cow for decades, but the sports entertainment juggernaut faces an uncertain future amid cord-cutting and the transition to streaming.

State of play: Speculation over what entity would pursue an ESPN partnership has trickled out over the last few weeks.

  • CNBC reported that Disney has held separate talks with Major League Baseball, the NFL and the NBA on a minority stake in the network.
  • According to Tim's sources, the talks were exploratory and nothing serious has emerged to date.
  • Comcast could also be in the strategic partner mix, according to analysts, who speculate that the cable company could gain a stake in ESPN as part of its Hulu ownership.

Yes, but: During Comcast's earnings call last week, president Mike Cavanaugh described the idea of Comcast taking a stake in ESPN as "very improbable."

Of note: ESPN tapped Good Karma Brands to take over operations and sales of its radio and podcast business, Sports Business Journal reported Monday.

  • The deal involves a revenue-sharing agreement and began last week.
  • ESPN will maintain control of content, distribution and marketing.

The big picture: ESPN's future is tied to a wider rethinking of Disney as the legacy media model implodes.

  • Iger is considering selling Disney's TV networks including ABC, but has said he wants to maintain ESPN as it fully transitions into a streaming-first sports media company.
  • Iger has enlisted two of his former lieutenants — and possible successors — in Candle Media's Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs, to consult on Disney's future strategy, Puck News reported Sunday.

💭 Tim's thought bubble: It's news that figures to ratchet up another round of succession talk as well as M&A speculation on the fate of the ex-Disney employees' Blackstone-backed media rollup company.

What's next: Disney's earnings are next week, and investors will no doubt be looking for some answers.

Go deeper