It’s been reported that Disney-owned ESPN is currently in “advanced negotiations” with the National Football League to reach a deal that would see the NFL receive an equity stake in ESPN. As part of this agreement, ESPN would take control of NFL Media, including the NFL Network.
But consider John Skipper, the co-founder of Meadowlark Media and former ESPN president, a skeptic. On Friday, Skipper appeared on The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz’s Sporting Class podcast, alongside Pablo Torre and former Miami Marlins president David Samson, and threw cold water on the idea that a union between the two entities is imminent. Here’s that clip, with the comments below starting around 1:45:
“Well, first, I want to establish what we actually know, ” Skipper began. “Bob Iger did announce that they would explore whether there were be interested parties who might want to invest — hold a minority equity stake in ESPN. It has been cited multiple times in reports, whether accurate or not, that among the parties that were approached were the NBA, the NFL, and the MLB. And we now have a report from the New York Post that, indeed, there may be actual discussions going on.
“It’s a long way from a deal. I’m quite skeptical that the deal would get done here. Though, it doesn’t surprise me because I think we also know that the NFL would like to shed some of their media assets…So, it doesn’t sound completely implausible. I think it ignores an astonishing conflict on both sides of the deal. I don’t understand, but I know what the press release would say. I don’t know in practical terms how you have reporters reporting the news on your minority shareholder without some dramatic tension and conflict.
“On the other side, I find that the NFL would also have a conflict. Do they want to have rights negotiations with all interested parties? But don’t worry; we won’t be giving an advantage to the company we own X percent in. It’s even more complicated because let’s assume that ESPN not getting [an] NFL deal would depress their value. They might get less fees from distributors, and they’ll sell less advertising…I don’t see how you do it.”
While the potential benefits of an NFL-ESPN deal are intriguing, Skipper’s concerns highlight the immense logistical and ethical hurdles that stand in the way. Ultimately, the question remains: is the price of this partnership too high for either party to pay?