Disney’s ESPN is currently in negotiations to finalise its deal with the NBA (National Basketball Association), and according to the Sports Business Journal, the new deal will include an increased international and digital package, that is being timed to launch alongside the all-new direct-to-consumer version of ESPN, which is set to launch in 2025 and will be available within Disney+ in the United States at an extra cost.

However, in order for ESPN to get the international and digital rights it wants, it is going to need to give up some of its regular season games for the 2025/26 season.   So, while this means that Disney won’t be able to broadcast as many regular-season games, it will have more control over where those are available.

Apparently, ESPN doesn’t view this concession as “really meaningful.”  By contrast, in the latest season, ESPN aired 77 games, while ABC aired 24 games.

The NBA deal is expected to be finalised and announced within the next few weeks. It is estimated that between all of the different bundled packages it offers across different platforms, it could be worth $76 billion. Disney’s ESPN is after the first pack, while NBC is paying approximately $2.5 billion for its second package, and Amazon is going to pay around $1.8 billion for its third package.  Currently, it looks like Warner Brothers Discovery isn’t going to be able to get a package, though it says it is willing to pay as much as Amazon or NBC.

There have been reports of a fourth bundle package, but apparently, the NBA wants to keep the options down to just three.  Disney and ESPN have also been prioritising that have have access to the conference finals, which have the biggest ratings.

ESPN reached a handshake deal with the NBA for its package within its exclusive negotiation window, and no further negotiations took place over the last month.

Sports programming is set to become a major part of Disney+, as in December, a new ESPN hub will be launched in the United States, offering select content and live sports as part of a Disney+ subscription, with ESPN+ subscribers also getting access to even more content.

Earlier this week, Disney+ was relaunched in Latin America with a brand new ESPN hub, as sports programming is now included within a single subscription.  It was also announced earlier this year that Disney+ in Denmark and Sweden will be the home to the UEFA Europa League and the UEFA Conference League for the 2024/25 season until the end of the 2026/27 season.   

Last year, Disney closed down its ESPN Player across Europe, Middle East and Africa, but never announced a replacement and with these new changes happening around the world, it does look like Disney is looking to make sports a bigger part of its lineup, which would help it compete with other platforms like Apple, Amazon and Netflix.

Roger’s Take:  Getting international and digital rights is certainly going to be a major advantage to enable Disney to lean further into offering sports, and while the costs involved in basically “renting” content do seem very high, sports programming is a vital aspect of keeping the audience engaged.  With other streaming services all starting to incorporate sports into their lineup, making ESPN one of the core hubs of Disney+ is likely the next big step.

What do you think of ESPN’s plans for the NBA?  Let me know on social media!

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Roger Palmer

Roger has been a Disney fan since he was a kid and this interest has grown over the years. He has visited Disney Parks around the globe and has a vast collection of Disney movies and collectibles. He is the owner of What's On Disney Plus & DisKingdom. Email: Roger@WhatsOnDisneyPlus.com Twitter: Twitter.com/RogPalmerUK Facebook: Facebook.com/rogpalmeruk

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