Disney is exploring the sale of a minority stake in ESPN to the NFL, the NBA and/or the MLB, according to reports last week from the New York Times and CNBC.

Disney CEO Bob Iger said in a recent interview on CNBC that he is considering selling equity positions in ESPN to strategic business partners as Disney prepares to migrate the flagship sports network to the ESPN+ direct-to-consumer platform. Disney is the majority owner of ESPN with Hearst already holding a 20% stake.

Disney is reportedly in need of a cash infusion in the face of its recently under performing movie/television production and amusement park businesses. At the same time, it is facing a major financial commitment to purchase a larger stake in hulu, and ESPN faces costly upcoming content rights renewals with sports leagues, including the NBA.

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CNBC reported that Iger and ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro have spoken with the National Football League (NFL), the National Basketball Association (NBA) and Major League Baseball (MLB) about the proposal.

According to reports, talks with the NFL have also involved the league’s desire to sell a stake in its NFL Media business, which controls NFL Network, NFL.com and NFL RedZone.

ESPN has so far not confirmed any timeline for a migration to a direct-to-consumer model for ESPN. The network’s history has been intimately tied to cable and satellite pay-TV distribution, from which the sports network has enjoyed as much as $10 per month from every cable subscriber, whether they want the sports content or not.

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By Greg Tarr

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