If there’s one number that sums up why Disney may decide to spin off ESPN sometime in the next couple of years, it’s contained in a securities filing the entertainment giant made tonight, as most folks were probably off drinking in anticipation of tomorrow’s Thanksgiving holiday. That number is $70.4 billion, representing what Disney has committed to pay for rights to sports programming in the future.
That total has mushroomed by a startling 73% in the past year, Disney’s past securities filings show, almost certainly thanks to renewals of sports contracts Disney has struck this year with the NFL, among other leagues. The fact that Disney, and other broadcasters, agreed to hefty increases is old news, of course. What we didn’t know until tonight was just how much Disney is now on the hook to pay. Disney will be carrying this burden over the next decade or more, a period in which the cable TV universe, which historically supported these payments, will likely shrink drastically.