The NFL is in advanced talks with ESPN to purchase a stake in the sports media network, The New York Post's Andrew Marchand reports.
If the talks come to fruition, the partnership would streamline distribution of the league's game broadcasts while further muddying the waters of ESPN's role in covering the NFL as an objective journalistic enterprise.
Per the report, talks between the two entities have progressed to the point that team owners and the NFL Players Association are being informed about the discussions. A league partnership with ESPN would need to be addressed in the NFL's collective bargaining agreement that lays out revenue sharing between players and team owners.
The current CBA was agreed upon in 2020 and extends until 2030. It's not clear from the report how the CBA would address a new league partnership with ESPN or how much the NFL's stake would be in a potential partnership with the network.
Per the report, a partnership would include ESPN taking control of NFL Media, which includes NFL.com, NFL Network and Red Zone. The league would in turn take an equity stake in ESPN. Such a scenario would raise questions about ESPN's ability to cover a league that has an ownership stake in the network. How would ESPN cover a news story that sheds a critical light on the NFL?
ESPN has straddled that journalistic line in its existing partnership with the NFL that sees it pay the league roughly $2.7 billion annually for the right to broadcast games, including "Monday Night Football" and the postseason. News of the potential equity agreement arrives amid an evolving broadcasting landscape that's become increasingly focused on streaming and direct-to-consumer access that bypasses traditional cable packages.
Per Marchand, ESPN is targeting the implementation of a direct-to-consumer model by 2025 if not before that would expand on its ESPN+ streaming service. Such a scenario would allow consumers the option to directly access traditional ESPN coverage through a streaming subscription or continue to access the network through a third-party cable provider.
Amid the reported NFL talks, ESPN's parent company Disney is also reportedly considering selling a minority stake in the network to a third party such as Apple, Verizon or Amazon. It wasn't clear from Marchand's report where those talks with other potential equity partners stood.