ESPN is said to be in talks with leagues about taking a stake in the network

ESPN is in talks with some of the most powerful leagues in professional sports, including the National Football League, the National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball, about taking minority stakes in its business.

The Walt Disney Co.-controlled cable network has held exploratory talks with the leagues as it tries to figure out its way forward in the streaming age, three people familiar with the matter said, speaking on condition of anonymity to describe the private discussions.

Disney declined to comment.

Disney’s CEO, Robert A. Igar, A CNBC interview The company said last week that it was “looking for strategic partners” that could help ESPN with distribution or content. “But we want to stay in the sports business,” said Mr. The deal with Disney was recently extended through 2026, Iger said.

Selling its stake in ESPN could give Disney a cash boost as it faces pricey renewals with sports leagues, including the NBA, which are sure to demand a premium for the rights to show its games in the coming years. Hearst, which owns magazines such as Cosmopolitan and information services such as Fitch Group, owns a minority stake in ESPN.

ESPN — long a profit center for Disney, which acquired the network in 1995 — has come under pressure in recent years as viewers cut the cable cord in favor of streaming services. Meanwhile, the price of game rights has been driven up by new companies including Apple, Amazon and YouTube. Trying to outbid deep-pocketed tech giants is a daunting prospect for cable networks whose businesses are in irreversible decline.

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Disney executives have insisted that ESPN’s future lies in streaming. Bloomberg And The Wall Street Journal The sports network recently announced that it is laying the groundwork to make its longtime cable-only flagship channel available to streaming viewers. That would mark a breakthrough for traditional TV distributors, who have staved off decline by offering live sports to cable subscribers.

CNBC As reported earlier Professional sports leagues are in talks to take stakes in ESPN.

Disney also faced continued pressure from interested investors, including Trian Fund Management. The company’s founder, Nelson Peltz, has been planning for Disney to improve its succession plan, calling off a fight for a board seat this year. The company owns about 6.4 million shares in Disney, according to a person familiar with the size of the holdings who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal affairs.

Brooks Barnes Contributed report.

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