Disney Renews MLB Deal, Inks Agreement With Spain’s LaLiga; CEO Says NFL Sunday Ticket Still In Play

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“We believe in the power of live sports,” Disney CEO Bob Chapek said Thursday in announcing an expansion of the brand’s footprint on various fields. Disney said it has renewed its current deal with Major League Baseball and bulked up even more with a new agreement with Spain’s LaLiga soccer league, the exec said on the company’s Q2 earnings call.

Dropping the news near the start of an otherwise fairly dry call, the boss of ESPN’s parent company added that Disney sees sports having “tremendous value now and into the future.” As part of that, Chapek reiterated that Disney remained in talks about the NFL Sunday Ticket package that had been exclusively at DirecTV; several suitors have kicked the tires on that service.

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Now going to 2028, the baseball deal will see ESPN air 30 regular-season games a year. Kicking in next year, the agreement includes 25 editions of Sunday Night Baseball, the national MLB game of the week, as well as MLB All-Star coverage and the MLB Little League Classic. With Disney leaning heavily into streaming, all the games shown on ABC and ESPN will potentially be simulcast on subscriber-based ESPN+

Exclusive to ESPN+. the eight-year agreement with LaLiga — home of FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and of course superstar Leo Messi — covers both English- and Spanish-language rights. In that context, the sports streamer will air 380 LaLiga matches per season, which will feature all 20 teams in Spain’s marquee first division.

With rights across all major sports, the extra muscle is part of an overall move by Disney to shift away from long-declining sports cable revenues and viewership and give ESPN+, which is bundled with Disney+ and Hulu, new strength.

“We know things are going to change,” Chapek admitted of the strategy that is baked into the sports deals for both linear and digital use. Emphasizing a “parallel path with ESPN and ESPN+,” the CEO added that he was willing to shift focus if need be.Still, Chapek told analysts that Disney is “really happy with the deals that we have” and their shareholder value.

To that end, a key point in the baseball deal is the ability to simultaneously air games on linear networks and stream them on ESPN+. While the streaming outlet is still a shadow of the main network, it continues to grow, both in terms of subscribers and strategic importance. In the fiscal second quarter, its subscriber level hit 13.8 million, up 75% from the same time a year ago.

Streaming has factored more heavily into baseball coverage in recent years, with Amazon Prime Video gaining a share of the YES Network and streaming several Yankees games beginning this season. Other games have streamed on Facebook and YouTube, and HBO Max parent WarnerMedia (whose Turner Sports has a long-term deal with MLB) has alluded to baseball in its discussion about future sports streaming offerings.

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Looking at the LaLiga agreement, soccer rights have been increasingly in demand, especially in streaming. Domestically, UEFA Champions League rights are a cornerstone of Paramount+ and English Premier League games are the No. 1 draw on NBCUniversal’s Peacock – even more so going forward as the Comcast-owned company shutters NBC Sports Network.

Playing the big game, Fox retains World Cup rights and will have the quadrennial event again in 2022.

Having said that, all is not free kicks in Disney’s streaming world. Just like Netflix, the House of Mouse felt the subscriber bite this quarter, with Disney+ results noticeably lower than expected. In Q2 earnings info just released, Disney+ had 103.6 million subscribers, compared with the 109.3 million that had been estimated.

After rapid growth over the past year and a half since its debut, the Disney+ saw overall Disney stock drop 4.4% in early after-hours trading after the Q2 earnings results were announced.

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