The Walt Disney Company’s announcement Thursday that it has reached an agreement to buy key assets of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox could have a profound effect on how sports is viewed in the coming years.
As the Burbank-based Disney assumes many of the L.A.-based Fox TV and movie properties, far down the line of things mentioned in the all-stock transaction valued at about $52.4 billion — and subject to federal approval – are the sports elements. Disney, which owns ESPN and ABC, will fold in the 22 Fox Sports Net regional channels as part of the deal.
In L.A., that will shift Fox Sports West, Prime Ticket and Fox Sports San Diego into the Disney/ESPN portfolio. The NHL’s Kings and Ducks and the NBA’s Clippers have rights fees with those three channels, as do various colleges conferences and a healthy array of high school sports packages locally.
Some initial questions:
What does Disney gain from these sports acquisitions?
ESPN Plus, the company’s first major video streaming initiative, will come in the spring of 2018. With more than half of the 80-some MLB, NBA and NHL regional deals on the Fox channels, that allows for more live sports streaming options.
There are some 5,500 games airing live on the 22 nets to date per year, which control 17 NBA teams, 15 MLB teams and 12 NHL teams. That does not include WNBA, MLS or other college and high school properties.
The Fox RSNs are reportedly valued at $20 billion – almost 40 percent of the total cost of the entire Disney-Fox transaction.
This would also put Disney back in the hockey business for the first time since 2004. Disney was also the original ownership group of the Anaheim Ducks – then the Anaheim Mighty Ducks – when they came into being 25 years ago.
“You have to look at the regional sports networks as a complement to ESPN, not an overlap,” Disney chair and CEO Robert Iger said in a CBNC interview Thursday, reported by the Sports Business Daily. “There will be a sharing of product so we can infuse ESPN national with some more local content and infuse the local regional sports networks with more national content, and the result of both will be better for the consumer than it is today.”
A 2016 Nielsen survey of 1,500 pay-TV subscribers shows local regional sports channels rank fifth among the ones subscribers value most important, ahead of ESPN.
But it’s not as if Fox Sports Net regionals were not already video streaming. Since February, Comcast has had a deal to…