The end of September brought in the expiration of another carriage deal with no agreement in place to renew it. At midnight on Sept. 30, the Disney-owned television stations that carry ABC programming as well as cable networks ESPN, FX Networks, Nat Geo, Freeform and Disney Channel, are no longer available on Dish and Sling TV. The news comes just a couple of days after the Game Show Network was restored on Dish and Sling TV after it too went dark over a carriage dispute. The disruption also comes as ABC is launching the new seasons of its series at the start of the broadcast season,
The drama between Walt Disney and Comcast. Their rivalry adds intrigue to the desire of Disney boss Bob Chapek to acquire the rest of streaming service Hulu from the cable operator sooner rather than later. Comcast Chief Executive Brian Roberts is in position to let his counterpart squirm, but there’s a neat solution to help settle the score: ESPN.
NFL ratings are booming in just about every timeslot this season, and Monday Night Football is no exception. It kicked off on September 12 and drew 19.8 million total viewers, its biggest audience since 2009. Now, the Disney franchise is mixing things up with an eye toward opening up even more advertising opportunities. Two games will air at overlapping times tonight on ABC and ESPN, a twist on the back-to-back doubleheaders that aired for more than a decade in Week 1 on ESPN.
At a time when the Walt Disney Co. is looking for ways to stream ESPN directly to consumers, a new survey reinforces the notion that cable subscribers feel they “must have” the sports network. Beta Research said that 78% of network viewers called ESPN a “must-have network.” Also ranking high in the study were Food Network and History.
Activist investor Dan Loeb signaled Sunday morning on Twitter that he is backing off his push to persuade Walt Disney Co. to spin off its popular sports television network ESPN. The change of heart comes after Disney CEO Bob Chapek said in media interviews at this weekend’s D23 Expo event — an annual gathering of Disney fans where the company announces new shows and films — that he has plans for ESPN to be a big growth engine and a large part of the company’s entertainment offerings.
Serena Williams’ final U.S. Open match last Friday was a grand slam for ESPN. The third-round faceoff, in which Williams lost to Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovich 7-5, 6-7, 6-1, was the most-watched tennis telecast in ESPN’s 43-year history. An average of 4.6 million viewers (P2+) tuned in to watch the match held at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, which likely signaled the end of Williams’ storied 25-year career. That bested the previous record of 3.9 million for the 2012 Wimbledon Men’s Championship, when Roger Federer defeated Andy Murray, in ESPN’s first year with exclusivity and first-ball-to-last-ball coverage from London.
ESPN averaged first-day record of 1.7 million viewers for PrimeTime at the U.S. Open (7 p.m. – 12:03 a.m. ET) on Monday, an increase of 279% over last year and up 40% over the previous high in 2019.
As marketer interest in other TV programming declines, demand for pro football continues its upward trajectory and has had a knock-on effect for other leagues like the NBA and NHL.
The entertainment giant depends on the sports network to fund its streaming expansion, but subscriptions are in decline.
Awesome, baby! ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale, whose enthusiastic game calls have been a staple of the sport for decades, announced Wednesday that he is cancer-free. Vitale had lengthy battles with lymphoma and melanoma, forcing him off television and causing him to lose his voice at one point.
Third Point, an investment firm run by Daniel Loeb, has taken a new stake in The Walt Disney Co. and is urging the company’s CEO to make a wave of changes, including spinning off ESPN and combining Hulu and the Disney+ streaming service. In a letter to Disney CEO Bob Chapek, Loeb, whose stake in Disney is reportedly worth about $1 billion, also wants The Mouse to expand its board of directors. Spinning off sports TV giant ESPN would give the unit “greater flexibility” and enable it “to pursue business initiatives that may be more difficult as part of Disney, such as sports betting,” Loeb said.
The Big Ten is on the cusp of television deals that are expected to pay it in excess of $1 billion and create a college football triple-header featuring Fox, CBS and NBC. If the agreement goes through, ESPN will be out of the business of Big Ten football and basketball for the first time in 40 years.
F1 has agreed to renew its rights deal with ESPN through 2025, sources say. The three-year deal still doesn’t have a signed contract, but the racing series told Amazon and Comcast executives on Friday that neither company’s bid was going to be accepted. Sources say that ESPN has agreed to pay around $75-$90 million per year for the rights. Currently, ESPN pays in the neighborhood of $5 million per year for the rights, having signed a 3-year/$15 million deal in 2019.
The third iteration of the XFL has found a TV home. The league and Disney have struck a global rights deal that will see all XFL regular season and playoff games running on ESPN, ABC and — in its first sports rights deal since becoming part of Disney — FX. The spring football league is set to begin play in 2023.
Three huge matchups to kick off the college football season, a new Australian Open agreement and two new 30 for 30 documentaries will be announced Tuesday by ESPN as part of its upfront presentation to advertisers in New York.
Joe Buck and Troy Aikman have been working together since 2002 when they became Fox’s top crew. The new ESPN NFL team will match Pat Summerall and John Madden for the longest NFL booth pairing at 21 seasons when Russell Wilson and the Denver Broncos visit Wilson’s former team, the Seattle Seahawks, on Sept. 12.
SportsCenter co-anchor Sage Steele has sued ESPN and corporate parent The Walt Disney Co. for allegedly violating both her contract and her free speech rights, according to multiple reports. Steele is reportedly claiming that the network “sidelined” her last year after she made remarks about ESPN’s COVID policy and former President Barack Obama’s ethnic identity.
ESPN, which already airs hundreds of college softball and women’s lacrosse games each spring, is set to become a destination for the pro versions of those sports as well. The Disney-owned sports brand set a two-year agreement with emerging pro circuit Athletes United that will see more than 160 games air and stream on various platforms. Of the full roster of games, 34 of them will be broadcast on ESPN or ESPN2 and 56 will be on ESPNU. Others will stream on ESPN+, as will a four-part unscripted series, Going Pro: Athletes Unlimited Lacrosse.
The telecast is sold out across its three days on ESPN, ABC and the NFL Network with 30 first-time advertisers on board.
Riding a hot sports market after a regular season in which ratings were up 19%, Disney Ad Sales and Turner Sports report high demand and near sellouts for the NBA playoffs, which started Tuesday night on TNT.
Following a 20-year run as an announcing team for Fox, Troy Aikman and Joe Buck have signed multiyear agreements to join ESPN as the new voices for Monday Night Football, as well as contribute content to ESPN+. Aikman and Buck will make their regular-season MNF debut on Sept. 12.
On Friday, Fox granted Buck permission to speak with ESPN, according to sources. A deal is expected to come to fruition shortly. With Fox, Buck had one year and near $10 million remaining on his contract. Fox, though, is letting him out early as a gesture for his years of service to the company. He is expected to sign a contract in the five-year, $60 million-$75 million range with ESPN.
Cable operators continue to perceive that ESPN is their most valuable network, according to a survey from Beta Research. Operators said on average the sports network was worth $1.05 a month to their systems, marking the 22nd consecutive year it was ranked first or statistically tied for the top position, Beta said..
Last August, Roberts was named ESPN’s senior vice president for NBA and studio production. As the league comes out of the All-Star break and the push toward the playoffs intensifies, Roberts says he is pleased with the early results. Game viewership on ESPN is up 10%, and the new NBA Today studio show has seen a 35% increase.