Disney is continuing to struggle with financial losses and is considering unloading large chunks of ownership stakes in TV networks including ESPN, ABC, FX, National Geographic, Freeform, and others. As a result, ESPN has sent requests to the NBA, NFL, and MLB to consider buying a stake in the cable sports network as layoffs and cost-cutting continues. Disney chief, Bob Iger, has stated that the company is searching for new partners that might be open to sinking cash into these networks, which may “not be core” to Disney’s best interests. As part of this effort to shift the costs of running ESPN, Disney has reportedly held preliminary talks with the NBA, NFL, and MLB to join them in potentially losing money on the sports network.
Despite the plans to lower its exposure, Iger insists that Disney wants to stay in sports, stating that it is a “very unique” market and that the company is “bullish about sports as a media property”. However, Disney is holding discussions with potential partners to help with distribution or content in an effort to cut costs.
Disney owns 80% of ESPN and is looking to spread its ownership position, with Hearst owning the remaining 20%. ESPN has suffered several waves of layoffs and continues to struggle with financial losses. Earlier this year, Disney and ESPN shed top talent such as Jalen Rose and long-time NBA analyst Jeff Van Gundy, among others. In addition, the company is facing ongoing disappointment with its Disney+ online streaming service, which has not taken off as expected.
Furthermore, Disney has experienced significant losses due to box office bombs, which have cost the company nearly a billion dollars. With these financial losses continuing to grow, Disney’s efforts to shift the costs of running ESPN onto potential partners could be a sign of desperation. Disney’s plans to unload ownership stakes in TV networks, including ESPN, may lead to a complete shift away from the company’s core interests. Only time will tell if Disney can find the right partners to help save its floundering sports network.