Disney has always tried to establish an empire in the world of sports. It has already garnered so much power across the world in terms of broadcasting rights. India’s Star Network is probably the most well-known broadcaster in the country, owned by Disney since 2017. Star Sports hold the rights to some of the most viewed events in the country, including the IPL, Indian Cricket, Pro Kabaddi League, and the Indian Super League.
Disney’s sports empire is growing across North America as well, and while ESPN was the most iconic channel across the continent, that is now changing. The media giant’s sports properties will expand beyond ESPN, with ESPN+, ABC, and Hulu playing an increasingly notable role.
ESPN has long served its content to other parts of the Disney empire, but the media industry’s streaming wars have shaken up how people watch TV. For the first time since 2005, ESPN has agreements with all four of the US popular sports: baseball, ice hockey, football, and basketball. It also acquired a 12-year expansion with Wimbledon that incorporates broadcasts on ABC and ESPN+.
Currently, Disney sports media covers the NFL games from 2023-2033 for $2.7 billion per season and MLB games from 2022-2028 for $4 billion. They also acquired NBA games through 2024 at around $1 billion per season. Internationally, they also have LaLiga matches from 2021-2028 for $1.4 billion and the PGA Tour rights from 2022. Their most recent acquisition of the NHL rights from long-standing competitors NBC sports has also turned heads.
The shift is symbolic of the more extensive one from cable to streaming. ESPN and ESPN2 are seeing subscriber declines, while 40% of Disney’s current upfront ad commitments came from its streaming services, namely Disney+, ESPN+, and Hulu. There has also been a recent hike in the subscription price of ESPN+ by $10 annually.
While there continue to be sceptics of whether Disney could retain this sort of portfolio in sports ESPN has yet to hit a wall, says Jimmy Pitaro Chairman of ESPN and Disney sports content “We have a five-year plan and a ten-year plan. We are actively looking at our rights and evaluating what is coming up, and what we can go after.