North American football’s NFL is reportedly in “advanced talks” to secure an equity stake in ESPN, the Disney-owned international sports broadcaster.

The New York Post said discussions over a deal had advanced enough for the league to inform the NFL Players Association and team owners. Both owners and players will have to sign off on any deal due to the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, which includes revenue sharing.

Under the agreement, in return for the league’s equity stake, ESPN would take control of NFL Media, the digital arm of the league, which comprises NFL Films, and the league’s cable channels – NFL Network, Redzone,, NFL Films – as well as NFL+, the recently launched streaming service.

The talks come after Disney chief executive Bob Iger told the media last August that his company wants to keep ESPN as an asset. However, the aim is to seek strategic partners to form a joint venture around ESPN or buy a stake in the sports heavyweight.

The broadcaster is being challenged by increased cord-cutting by subscribers in favor of direct-to-consumer (DTC) streaming services. In its latest filings, ESPN said it has 73 million subscribers, down from 98.5 million in 2013.

At the time, Iger said any investment would be used to help take the network DTC by 2025.

How well do you really know your competitors?

Access the most comprehensive Company Profiles on the market, powered by GlobalData. Save hours of research. Gain competitive edge.

Company Profile – free sample

Thank you!

Your download email will arrive shortly

Not ready to buy yet? Download a free sample

We are confident about the unique quality of our Company Profiles. However, we want you to make the most beneficial decision for your business, so we offer a free sample that you can download by submitting the below form

By GlobalData
Visit our Privacy Policy for more information about our services, how we may use, process and share your personal data, including information of your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications. Our services are intended for corporate subscribers and you warrant that the email address submitted is your corporate email address.

Last February, Disney announced that ESPN would become a standalone business as part of a wider restructuring. Before that, the main ESPN linear channel and the ESPN+ streaming service operated separately.

This means the company’s premium live sports properties, such as the NFL and NBA, were only available through cable subscriptions.

Disney holds rights to two NFL packages, including Monday Night Football (MNF) which airs on ESPN and sister channel ABC, and two Super Bowls. Its MNF deal encompasses 25 games worth around $2.6 billion per year.

ESPN is the largest sports media brand in the US, with over 105 million monthly unique digital visitors. Its social media presence boasts 370 million fans, while 25 million subscribe to its ESPN+ streaming service.

Last year, it was reported Amazon, the global retail and content heavyweight, was in early-stage talks with Disney over a potential stake in ESPN. Major telecoms operator Verizon has also been linked with a potential partnership.

Last July, meanwhile, it was rumored that Disney was considering bringing a major US sports league on board as a minority investor for ESPN and that Iger and ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro had held early-stage talks with the NFL, NBA, and baseball’s MLB about minority investment.

The broadcaster recently struck a $2 billion deal with casino owner PENN Entertainment to launch sports betting business ESPN Bet. It then announced a partnership with the National Hockey League to become its official sports betting partner.