Disney Locks Down MLB and Soccer Programming With New Deals

Walt Disney Co. announced a new seven-year agreement with Major League Baseball and an eight-year pact with Spain’s LaLiga soccer league, the latest in a series of sports-programming deals by the media giant.

Disney, the parent of ESPN, will broadcast 30 regular MLB games per season, 25 of them on Sunday nights, the company said Thursday. Under a previous contract, it had been airing 90 games, but most weren’t exclusive and could also be seen on competing local channels.

The soccer accord gives ESPN+ rights to the English- and Spanish-language coverage of LaLiga Santander and LaLiga SmartBank, the country’s premiere and second-tier circuits, through the 2028-2029 season. The ESPN cable network is already the home to the Spanish Copa del Rey, Copa de la Reina and Supercopa de España championship tourneys.

The two sports deals represent a big financial commitment. Disney will pay $175 million a year for soccer, according to a person familiar with the matter, which would be more than the Premier League’s deal with Comcast Corp.’s NBC.

For the baseball deal, the sports news site the Athletic reported earlier this year that Disney could be paying as much as $150 million a year less for the package. It previously had an eight-year deal worth $5.8 billion for considerably more games.

Disney declined to comment on the finances of either contract.

Soccer Controversy

La Liga’s deal to showcase elite Spanish soccer in the U.S. follows weeks of turmoil after three of its clubs, Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona, elected to join a European superleague. The plan was aborted after adverse reaction from fans, politicians, and the domestic leagues such as LaLiga, which argued it would have a bad impact on the game as a whole.

Under the new baseball agreement, Disney will also get rights to some extras, including the annual Home Run Derby batting competition, and a new series of wild-card playoff games, should they continue. The Burbank, California-based company also negotiated rights to air the games on additional channels, such as its ABC broadcast network and its ESPN+ streaming service.

The deals are part of an overall strategy to couple long-term sports rights with the flexibility to create different shows for different audiences, such as a statistics-heavy presentation for subscribers of ESPN+.

“ESPN’s longstanding relationship with Major League Baseball has been a driver of innovation for three decades,” ESPN Chairman Jimmy Pitaro said in a statement. “This agreement solidifies baseball’s ubiquitous presence across ESPN platforms, including ESPN+.”

ESPN has been on a sports-rights renewal run recently, signing long-term deals with the National Football League, the National Hockey League and college’s Southeastern Conference. While the company paid more for the NFL rights, it got extra content, including some Super Bowls, while seeing less of an increase in fees than rival broadcasters.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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