Earlier this week, reports circulated regarding ESPN’s interest in acquiring Fox’s regional sports networks as part of Disney’s potential purchase of 21st Century Fox. As Awful Announcing’s Alex Putterman detailed, that would mean ESPN taking on 22 RSNs throughout the country (including New York’s YES Network) along with the live sports rights to MLB, NBA and NHL teams, in addition to local college sports and other properties.
How much would assembling a regional sports empire and adding it to ESPN’s existing properties be worth to the network? According to the Los Angeles Times‘ Meg James, Fox’s RSNs have been valued at $22.5 billion. Additionally, Fox’s 39 percent stake in Europe’s Sky Sports group of channels is worth $8.8 billion, while a 30 percent stake in Hulu adds another $1.75 billion in value.
That would roughly increase ESPN’s value by 50 percent, as reported by Forbes’ Kurt Badenhausen, based on an analysis by Wunderlich Securities which put the company’s worth at $50.8 billion. Forbes reported that $50.8 billion number back in 2014, and it’s likely that value has decreased slightly as ESPN has been dealing with subscriber losses due to cord-cutting and lower ratings. According to Nielsen data, ESPN is now available in approximately 87 million homes, compared to 99 million households seven years ago.
James’ L.A. Times report goes on to explain that Fox’s regional sports networks carry games from 44 professional teams in MLB, the NBA and NHL. That’s a significant amount of content that could be added to ESPN’s coverage (though Disney’s acquisition of BAMTech already includes many of those teams) and would make the company’s upcoming streaming service, ESPN Plus, more valuable in terms of the content offered. Viewers prefer watching sporting events live, which makes those telecasts far more appealing to advertisers looking to buy spots.
Given those numbers, it’s not far-fetched to say that ESPN taking control of Fox’s regional sports networks would provide a much-needed transfusion of content while also allowing the network to increase its footprint throughout the country, likely offering its own content (for instance, NFL, NBA and college football studio shows, as well as debate programs) on those RSNs to fill programming time during the day and between live sports broadcasts. Production costs would also almost certainly decrease with talent from those RSNs being used, rather than ESPN sending producers, reporters, hosts and technicians to remote locations.
Suddenly, the narrative that ESPN is dying would very likely change because its presence and content would be so much stronger, while overall costs could be reduced.