NFL in ‘Advanced Talks’ to Acquire an Equity Stake in ESPN

In return, the cable network would gain control of NFL Media, which includes the NFL Network

David Eulitt/Getty Images

The National Football Leagueis in “advanced talks” with ESPN to gain an equity stake in the cable network, according to media reports. In return, ESPN would control NFL Media, including the NFL Network, RedZone, NFL.com, NFL Films and NFL+. ESPN and NFL representatives declined to comment.

While the NFL has been publicly searching for a strategic partner for the last two years to help with distribution of its programming, they are not believed to be looking to sell the NFL Network. The NFL has had talks with multiple potential partners.

Details of the conversations between the NFL and ESPN have not been publicly shared, but the NFL has notified both owners and the Players Association. The Athletic reports that it reviewed a Jan. 9 email from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to NFL employees in which Goodell explained it is time to “adapt to the changing business environment, aligning resources with key investment opportunities.”

“Additional steps to ensure that our workforce is aligned with the League’s priorities will follow in the months ahead. Change is often difficult but it is undeniably an important part of a healthy organization,” he continued.

Both team owners and players will need to weigh in on any such deal due to the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement, which includes revenue sharing.

In November, Disney executives Bob Iger and Kevin Mayer confirmed their plan to offer ESPN as a direct-to-consumer service by 2025. Mayer announced the news at Yahoo Finance’s Invest conference. While Mayer declined to put a price point on a streaming platform, he admitted that $30 a month would be “entirely reasonable” for access to the network’s wide range of sports.

Iger put Mayer and Candle Media co-CEO Tom Staggs in charge of the transition. Mayer explained, “He needed some part of his team back. He came back to a company that had vastly changed. When you come back into a situation that’s vastly changed since you left and a lot of the team that you had before and relied on before are gone, I left him in a position where he really wanted to have some people that he trusted tell them what they thought, and that’s what I’m doing.”

If the deal goes through, fans will be able to watch NFL content on any device that can stream it, including their phones. ESPN currently pays $2.6 billion to broadcast 25 NFL games per season.

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