Iger Confident NBA Will Remain On ESPN

by , Aug 6, 2013, 8:31 PM
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Disney CEO Bob Iger indicated Tuesday that he expects ESPN to renew its deal to carry NBA games as the current agreement runs through the 2015-16 season, but negotiations may begin well in advance.

“I think it would be safe to assume that we’re reasonably confident that we’ll be able to extend that relationship,” he said.

He added that while the league is crucial to ESPN, it also offers an “important platform” for the NBA. The league is expected to increase rights fees immensely as the value of sports programming has accelerated and ESPN recently declined to renew a deal with NASCAR, perhaps to help fund an NBA continuation.

Speaking on a call with investors, Iger also said he does not expect Congress to get involved in reforming the retransmission consent rules as a result of blackouts that have CBS-owned stations off the air in Time Warner Cable homes.

“We never like to see battles like this, obviously, because we think that sometimes they bring attention to the business that isn’t necessarily helpful,” he said.

But he added: “I don't get a sense that there is government intervention that is imminent because of this.”

In the most recently completed quarter, Disney's results included ESPN posting an ad sales increase even with lower ratings, attributed mostly to fewer NBA regular-season and playoff games, where the matchups drew lower ratings.

Iger indicated that the company is bullish on ESPN's prospects even as 21st Century Fox moves to launch a new 24/7 sports network. He said ESPN recently completed a strong upfront market and “did not detect any impact whatsoever” from Fox Sports 1 or other competitive pressures.

At ABC, ad sales were up modestly in the quarter, while Disney said scatter pricing is up in the mid-teen-percentage range above upfront levels.

Overall, revenue for the media networks segment, which also include the Disney Channel and ABC Family, rose 5% to $5.4 billion and operating income increased by 8% to $2.3 billion.

Company-wide, revenues were up 4% to $11.6 billion, while profit was up 1% to $1.8 billion.

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