Disney in Discussions With NFL for ‘Sunday Ticket’ Franchise, Renews MLB Deal

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Disney is in discussions with the NFL about possibly picking up the “Sunday Ticket” franchise that has been a pillar of DirecTV for years.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek said during the company’s quarterly earnings call Thursday that the company is “in conversations” with the NFL about picking up the service that offers NFL super-fans the option of watching any out of market games. At present DirecTV charges about $400 a year for the service. AT&T parent DirecTV, which recently sold a big stake in the satcaster to private equity giant TPG, has made it clear that DirecTV will not renew its “Sunday Ticket” contract with the NFL when it expires after the 2022 football season.

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Chapek said a “Sunday Ticket” deal was “something we’re considering” but quickly emphasized that it would only make sense if it “adds shareholder value.” It’s unclear if Disney sees “Sunday Ticket” as an add-on for its ESPN Plus streaming service or something for the mothership ESPN linear cable platform or possibly as an incentive to bring sports fans to its Hulu Live service.

Disney in March already inked a whopping 10-year deal with the NFL to renew “Monday Night Football” rights for ESPN in a pact that puts ABC back in the Super Bowl rotation for the first time in more than 15 years.

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Disney also confirmed Thursday that ESPN has struck a new deal with Major League Baseball that will see the sports-media giant air a narrower package of games, primarily for its “Sunday Night Baseball” franchise.

The new seven-year deal, which will commence in 2022, will last through 2028.

ESPN is walking away, largely, from airing weekday baseball outings and its total number of games is expected to fall to about 30 to 40 games, compared with around 90 in past seasons. ESPN will broadcast 25 Sunday games, a national MLB game of the week and the “MLB Little League Classic.” ESPN will also televise five additional games exclusively, including an Opening Night telecast. The network will also carry MLB’s Home Run Derby. ESPN also won rights to produce alternate game presentation and to stream ESPN and ABC telecasts on its ESPN Plus streaming outlet.

If MLB should decide to expand its postseason Wild Card games, ESPN stands to benefit. Should those games expand, ESPN will exclusively televise the entire MLB Wild Card Series starting in 2022, If the current Wild Card format remains, ESPN will continue to exclusively televise one of the two MLB Wild Card Games, and will receive eight additional exclusive regular-season game telecasts each year.

“This extension continues the evolution of our relationship with a focus on utilizing ESPN’s extensive assets to shine a spotlight on key match-ups throughout the year,” said Robert Manfred, the MLB Commissioner, in a prepared statement. ” As the way in which fans consume baseball continues to change, this partnership provides expanded opportunities for fans to engage with our content and we are excited to present those new opportunities.”

ESPN executives feel the deal keeps the network’s relationship with MLB intact, while focusing on an ” impactful collection of exclusive content,” said Jimmy Pitaro, ESPN’s chairman, in a statement.

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