Will Apple buy ESPN?
The GIST: An Apple–ESPN acquisition has long been perceived as a perfect fit, and Disney CEO Bob Iger's latest comments have involved looking for distribution partners to help ESPN go direct-to-consumer. If he does go the Apple route, it wouldn't be the first time these media giants have made an industry-altering deal. To infinity and beyond.
The past: An estimated $50B acquisition of ESPN by Apple has been described as a "no-brainer,” and the move is looking more possible by the day. The two companies have been intertwined for decades, with the relationship continuing to flourish under current Apple CEO Tim Cook, including through content collaboration for Apple's Vision Pro headset.
- Apple has always prided itself on innovation and in-house production, but did have the forethought to purchase Beats for $3B in 2014. If Apple doesn't buy Disney outright — skeptics say it doesn't want to buy a studio and the move might face government opposition — a solo ESPN venture could be amenable for all parties.
The present: Apple already spent $2.5B on a 10-year broadcast deal with MLS, a prudent strategy ahead of Lionel Messi’s move to the league, which hinged upon offering him a percentage of subscription revenue. It's a better agreement than the one it has with MLB, as it’s limited to Friday Night Baseball and still costs $595M over seven years.
- Earlier this year, Apple expressed interest in buying Pac-12 media rights, although the conference's rapid dissolution may deter future interest. The company also made a bid for NFL Sunday Ticket and is already in the sports music space through a $250M, multiyear Super Bowl halftime show deal. OMG.
- If Apple did buy ESPN, it would inherit deals with the major four U.S. men’s leagues, the WNBA, F1, the WTA and ATP, college football’s Big 12 and SEC conferences, and more. It would also stand to benefit from women's basketball’s exponential growth, which the network profited on this year during the WNBA playoffs and women's March Madness.
The future: And if Apple really wants to stay ahead of the curve, it’ll consider stepping into the women's sports space itself. The explosion of women's soccer means the company could be a contender for the next NWSL media rights bid — and will have a successful MLS model to tout over competitors. Buying into women's sports would be like purchasing Beats all over again. Apple’s next episode.