Disneyland is still known as the most magical place on Earth, but things are probably a lot less magical at Disney’s corporate offices these days. The company is in the midst of a major restructuring, cutting costs and trying to boost revenue to mitigate losses from its streaming division.
As part of this restructuring, there have been changes at the executive level for ESPN, which is owned by Disney. Rosalyn Durant will now be executive vice president of programming and acquisitions for ESPN, meaning she will be the network’s lead when negotiating new rights deals with sports organizations.
What’s particularly interesting about this news is Durant’s close ties to the NBA. Durant was one of the main organizers of the “bubble” that allowed the NBA to continue playing during the height of the COVID lockdown in 2020. Durant also maintains close relationships with NBA officials.
This could be a signal that ESPN is ready to jump into the NBA rights bid with both feet. ESPN already has the rights to some NBA games, but not all of those games appear on the channel’s ESPN+ streaming service. The broadcast rights agreement signed between the league, Disney and Warner Bros. Discovery expires after the 2024-25 season, and the NBA’s next deal will likely include a stronger basketball streaming presence.
It’s possible that Durant was elevated to her current position because Disney wants to secure the rights to all NBA games for ESPN. That would be quite costly, as the NBA will undoubtedly want a salary increase over the $2.7 billion that Disney and WBD will pay together in 2015. It also seems unlikely given the company’s current cost-saving philosophy. But it would undoubtedly bring more views and more revenue to ESPN and ESPN+ and be a major feather in Disney’s cap.
However, House of Mouse will have a lot of competition for these rights should they hit the open market. A recent report suggests that Apple, NBCUniversal, and Amazon would all be interested in bidding for NBA rights, and each company could help increase the number of NBA games streamed. WBD executives have also recently signaled their affinity for the league, despite CEO David Zaslav saying in November that his company doesn’t “need to own the NBA.”
The issue of the NBA’s next broadcast partner will likely be settled in the coming months. Whichever exit he chooses could have huge implications for the future of the NBA — and sports in general — in streaming, and ESPN’s corporate restructuring could indicate that it intends to make a serious effort to continue working with the league.