ESPN, NFL in advanced talks on agreement that could give league equity in TV giant

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By Dan Sears

ESPN and the NFL are in advanced talks that could result in the league taking an equity stake in ESPN, The Post has learned.

As part of a potential agreement, Disney-owned ESPN would take control of NFL Media, which includes NFL Network, and the league would receive equity in ESPN. For the long-term viability of ESPN aligning with the most powerful sports league would enhance its position as the network plans to move to direct to consumer by 2025.

While the idea of an ESPN-NFL alliance has been mentioned before, discussions between Disney-owned ESPN and the NFL are far enough along that sources said that owners and the Players Association are being informed about the talks. 

The owners and players need to be involved in the equity agreement because of the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the two sides that calls for them to share revenues. It is unclear of how an equity stake in ESPN would be accounted for in the CBA.

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It still could take months for a deal to be finalized. Both ESPN and the NFL declined comment.

The NFL has been trying to unload its network for years now. In its recent talks that resulted in its $110-plus billion deals with ESPN, Amazon, CBS, Fox, NBC and YouTube, the NFL searched for a buyer, but was unsuccessful.


ESPN and the NFL are in advanced talks on the agreement.
ESPN and the NFL are in advanced talks on the agreement. REUTERS

NFL Media consists of NFL Network, NFL.com, Red Zone, NFL Films and NFL+. Since ESPN covers the league thoroughly, there would be synergies if the two sides are able to reach an agreement. Disney/ESPN might be able to secure better carriage arrangements for NFL Network. 

ESPN has targeted 2025 as the most likely year it will go direct-to-consumer. It is still possible it could move up the date to end of this year. 

When it does, it plans on offering all its programming without a cable subscription. A subscriber could choose to pay for the service directly through ESPN’s app or would still be able to opt for the ESPN channels through a cable or satellite provider.

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Under the potential agreement, NFL Network would fall under the Disney umbrella.
Under the potential agreement, NFL Network would fall under the Disney umbrella. USA TODAY Sports

ESPN currently offers ESPN+ as a separate add-on service, but it has more specialty programming, including one exclusive NFL game. 

As it turns to direct-to-consumer, ESPN ideally wants a league partner and one of the top digital players, such as, but not limited to Apple, Amazon or Verizon, so it can leverage its content with the best distribution channels. In June, CNBC reported that ESPN held talks with the NFL, NBA and MLB.

ESPN currently pays the NFL around $2.6 billion per year for rights that include 25 games, highlighted by its weekly Monday Night prime time schedule.

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