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ESPN eyes international exit

Disney-owned sports broadcaster ESPN is considering exiting a number of international markets as a result of the growing costs of acquiring live sporting rights.

Disney chairman and chief executive Bob Iger () told investors that the opportunities for ESPN are limited internationally.

Speaking at the announcement of its first quarter financial results, he said: “ESPN’s international business has never been particularly large, nor has it been a huge priority for the company.”

He added that it would continue with its partnership with News Corp across Asia and its standalone UK pay TV channel, which currently holds the rights to some English Premier League soccer games. “They’re going to continue to look at those opportunities with an eye toward determining whether they have the ability to grow or, in some cases, become profitable or, if not, potentially exit those markets. That’s not to say they we’re going to get out of international, but I think ESPN is likely to be selective about their presence there,” said Iger.

The proliferation of pay TV platforms using key sports as a driver for their services, as well as deep pocketed Middle Eastern companies including Al Jazeera, makes it harder for companies like ESPN to make money on sports globally.

“It’s tough going for them because they’re frequently competing with local or locally owned and controlled platform owners that are going after sports almost as loss leaders to drive subscriptions to their platforms,” Iger said. “It’s kind of tough to be as aggressive buying live sports. So the opportunities for ESPN internationally, I think, are somewhat limited. Not to say that they don’t exist, but it’s never going to be a big part of ESPN’s business.”