ESPN Explores Partnerships with Sports Leagues as It Transitions to a Digital Company

by Warren Seah

Santa Monica, Calif. – ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro revealed the network’s openness to forming partnerships with sports leagues as they shift their focus from cable to digital platforms.

During a seminar sponsored by CNBC and Boardroom, a sports media company founded by Kevin Durant, Pitaro expressed confidence in finding potential partners to enhance their content offerings. While he refrained from disclosing the specific leagues involved in discussions with him and Disney CEO Bob Iger, he acknowledged the considerable interest shown by various leagues, as well as technology, marketing, and distribution firms.

Pitaro also addressed ESPN’s plans to launch a direct-to-consumer product, stating that it is not a matter of if, but when the network will expand its offerings in this direction.

If a league were to secure an equity stake in ESPN, it would mark a groundbreaking development and raise questions about the impartiality of coverage. This move would also signify another significant milestone in the evolving relationship between sports and its broadcast partners.

While certain teams already have equity stakes in regional sports networks, all four major U.S. professional leagues possess their own dedicated channels.

Regarding ESPN’s position within the Disney framework, Pitaro assured that Disney CEO Bob Iger recognizes the significance of live sports and the ESPN brand for the future of the Walt Disney Company.

The Future of ESPN: Exploring Direct-to-Consumer Options

Acknowledging the challenge of transitioning from a linear to a digital platform, LionTree Chairman and CEO Aryeh Bourkoff believes partnerships are crucial for businesses, just as much as mergers and acquisitions. Bourkoff highlighted Netflix’s successful shift from a DVD-by-mail service to streaming and Amazon’s expansion from online book sales to Prime Video and its own branded products as prime examples.

Bourkoff emphasized the need for proper alignment in this digital age where technology and digital companies are fiercely competing against one another. To make this transition successful, collaboration and collective effort will be required to preserve the upside potential and cash flow.

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