LOS ANGELES — More than a decade after Apple disrupted the music industry and Amazon upended retail, the tech heavyweights have set their sights on a new arena ripe for change: live sports.
Emboldened by their deep pockets and eager to boost viewership of their streaming-subscription services, Apple and Amazon have thrust themselves into negotiations for media rights held by the National Football League, Major League Baseball, Formula One racing and college conferences.
They are competing to replace DirecTV for the rights to N.F.L. Sunday Ticket, a package the league wants to sell for more than $2.5 billion annually, about $1 billion more than it currently costs, according to five people familiar with the process. Eager not to miss out, Google has also offered a bid from YouTube for the rights beginning in 2023, two people familiar with the offer said.
reported by the SportsBusiness Journal.
Fans will still be able to access all the games on Sunday, regardless of who wins the rights, but they will probably pay a premium to add the service to their Apple, Amazon, ESPN+ or YouTube service, some of the dozen people said. It is not yet clear if that premium would be more or less than the $294 that DirecTV charges for a year, they added.
The Race to Rule Streaming TV
Apple and Amazon are trying to position themselves for a future without cable. Since 2015, traditional pay television has lost a quarter of its subscribers — about 25 million homes — as people traded cable packages for apps like Netflix and Hulu, according to MoffettNathanson, an investment firm that tracks the industry.
But the price of live sports rights is only projected to increase. The biggest media companies, including Disney, Comcast, Paramount and Fox, are expected to spend a combined $24.2 billion for rights in 2024, according to data from MoffettNathanson, nearly double what they spent a decade earlier.
The fragmenting of a decades-old distribution model has created an opportunity for Apple and Amazon. The companies want to expand deeper into media by selling subscriptions to Apple TV+ and Amazon Prime. Besides containing their own exclusive shows and sports, those services double as portals selling additional streaming offerings like Starz and HBO Max, which pay Apple and Amazon 15 percent or more of each subscription sold.
Amazon generates more than $3 billion annually from third-party subscription sales, according to estimates by the investment bank BMO Capital Markets. To make the business model work, Apple and Amazon must attract more viewers, and sports are the most powerful draw in media. The companies may be willing to lose money on Sunday Ticket to expose new customers to other parts of their business, the same calculation that DirecTV historically made.
For all their disruptive potential, though, Apple and Amazon have yet to win a marquee rights package in the United States. That is reminiscent of 20 years ago, when sports leagues feared they would lose viewers by shifting games from network television to cable. But the change gradually became standard.
Traditional television companies are trying to stave off Apple and Amazon by starting their own streaming-subscription services. Last year Comcast, which owns NBCUniversal, shuttered NBC Sports Network to bolster its USA channel and to encourage people to pay for Peacock, where it exclusively aired some English Premier League soccer games. Similarly, ESPN struck a deal with the National Hockey League to televise some games on its ESPN+ service, and CBS has shown marquee soccer games on Paramount+.
But those services have a fraction of the more than 100 million cable subscribers the media companies once reached. As a result, the bulk of sports programming goes on traditional pay-TV channels where they can guarantee leagues and advertisers larger audiences.
The National Basketball Association will be the first major test of the new competitive landscape. Its agreements with ESPN and Turner run through the 2024-25 season. Most sports and media executives predict that the league will stick with traditional broadcasters for most of its games, while carving out some small portion of rights for a tech company.
“It hedges them for the future and exposes the product to new audiences,” said George Pyne, founder of the sports private equity firm, Bruin Capital, and the former chief operating officer of NASCAR. “They can still have a long-term relationship with network partners but dip their toe in with new media.”
Until then, the best opportunities for Apple and Amazon may be overseas — where Amazon has been active for years — becauseEuropean soccer leagues resell their rights every two to three years. Amazon recently scooped up rights to Europe’s top tournament, the UEFA Champions League, in Britain, Germany and Italy. It also has rights to France’s Ligue 1, which it offers to Prime Video subscribers for annual fee of about $90, and the English Premier League.
Media companies will be pressured to expand geographically to compete, said Daniel Cohen, who leads global media rights consulting for Octagon, a sports agency. Television broadcasters could also team up to pool their financial firepower, or buy each other outright, to compete with tech giants willing to pay billions for rights like N.F.L. Sunday Ticket.
“It comes down to a Silicon Valley ego thing,” Mr. Cohen said of the high-dollar N.F.L. deal. “I don’t see a road to profitability. I see a road to victory.”
Since its founding in 1923, Disney has stood alone in Hollywood in one fundamental way: Its family-friendly movies, television shows and theme park rides, at least in theory, have always been aimed at everybody, with potential political and cultural pitfalls zealously avoided.
The Disney brand is about wishing on stars and finding true love and living happily ever after. In case the fairy tale castles are too subtle, Disney theme parks outright promise an escape from reality with welcome signs that read, “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.”
Lately, however, real world ugliness has been creeping into the Magic Kingdom. In this hyperpartisan moment, both sides of the political divide have been pounding on Disney, endangering one of the world’s best-known brands — one that, for many, symbolizes America itself — as it tries to navigate a rapidly changing entertainment industry.
In some cases, Disney has willingly waded into cultural issues. Last summer, to applause from progressives and snarls from the far right, Disney decided to make loudspeaker announcements at its theme parks gender neutral, removing “ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls” in favor of “dreamers of all ages.” But the entertainment giant has also found itself dragged into the fray, as with the recent imbroglio over a new Florida law that among many things restricts classroom instruction through third grade on sexual orientation and gender identity and has been labeled by opponents as “Don’t Say Gay.”
Disney then aggressively denounced the bill — only to find itself in the cross hairs of Fox News hosts and Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, who sent a fund-raising email to supporters saying that “Woke Disney” had “lost any moral authority to tell you what to do.” Florida lawmakers began threatening to revoke a 55-year-old law that enables Walt Disney World to essentially function as its own municipal government. (Disney had already been at odds with the governor on pandemic issues like a vaccine mandate for employees.)
In trying to offend no one, Disney had seemingly lost everyone.
Candlelight Processional events, Bible verses and all.
It took the company until 2009 to introduce a Black princess.
But in recent years, there has been a noticeable change. Robert A. Iger, who served as chief executive from 2005 to 2020, pushed the world’s largest entertainment company to emphasize diverse casting and storytelling. As he said at Disney’s 2017 shareholder meeting, referring to inclusion and equality: “We can take those values, which we deem important societally, and actually change people’s behavior — get people to be more accepting of the multiple differences and cultures and races and all other facets of our lives and our people.”
powerful Afrocentric story line. Under his tenure, Disney refocused the “Star Wars” franchise around female characters. A parade of animated movies (“Moana,” “Coco,” “Raya and the Last Dragon,” “Soul,” “Encanto”) showcased a wide variety of races, cultures and ethnicities.
Read More on the Walt Disney Company
The result, for the most part, has been one hit after another. But a swath of Disney’s audience has pushed back.
review bombed” in the fall because it depicted a gay superhero kissing his husband, with online trolls flooding the Internet Movie Database with hundreds of homophobic one-star reviews. In January, Disney was accused by the actor Peter Dinklage and others of trafficking in stereotypes by moving forward with a live-action “Snow White” movie — until it was revealed that the company planned to replace the seven dwarfs with digitally created “magical creatures,” which, in turn, prompted complaints by others about the “erasure” of people with dwarfism.
Disney executives tend to dismiss such incidents as tempests in teapots: trending today, replaced by a new complaint tomorrow. But even moderate online storms can be a distraction inside the company. Meetings are held about how and whether to respond; fretful talent partners must be reassured.
As Disney prepared to introduce its streaming service in 2019, it began an extensive review of its film library. As part of the initiative, called Stories Matter, Disney added disclaimers to content that the company determined included “negative depictions or mistreatment of people or cultures.” Examples included episodes of “The Muppet Show” from the 1970s and the 1941 version of “Dumbo.”
“These stereotypes were wrong then and are wrong now,” the disclaimers read.
The Stories Matter team privately flagged other characters as potentially problematic, with the findings distributed to senior Disney leaders, according to two current Disney executives, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential information. Ursula, the villainous sea witch from “The Little Mermaid” (1989), was one. Her dark color palette (lavender skin, black legs) could be viewed through a racial lens, the Stories Matter team cautioned; she is also a “queer coded” character, with mannerisms inspired in part by those of a real-life drag queen.
changing of the guard, with Mr. Iger stepping down as executive chairman in December.
Mr. Iger occasionally spoke out on hot-button political issues during his time as chief executive. His successor, Bob Chapek, decided (with backing from the Disney board) to avoid weighing in on state political battles. Disney lobbyists would continue to work behind the scenes, however, as they did with the Florida legislation.
gently explored gender identity. Gonzo donned a gown, defying a directive from Miss Piggy “that the girls come as princesses and the boys come as knights.” Out magazine wrote that the episode “just sent a powerful message of love and acceptance to gender-variant kids everywhere!” And a far-right pundit blasted Disney for “pushing the trans agenda” on children, starting an online brush fire.
Around the same time, some L.G.B.T.Q. advocates were criticizing Disney over “Loki,” a Disney+ superhero show. In the third episode of “Loki,” the title character briefly acknowledged for the first time onscreen what comic fans had long known: He is bisexual. But the blink-and-you-missed-it handling of the information angered some prominent members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community. “It’s, like, one word,” Russell T. Davies, a British screenwriter (“Queer as Folk”), said during a panel discussion at the time. “It’s a ridiculous, craven, feeble gesture.”
The fighting will undoubtedly continue: The Disney-Pixar film “Lightyear,” set for release in June, depicts a loving lesbian couple, while “Thor: Love and Thunder,” arriving in July, will showcase a major L.G.B.T.Q. character.
Last month, when Disney held its most recent shareholder meeting, Mr. Chapek was put on the spot by shareholders from the political left and right.
One person called Disney to task for contributions to legislators who have championed bills that restrict voting and reproductive rights. Mr. Chapek said that Disney gave money to “both sides of the aisle” and that it was reassessing its donation policies. (He subsequently paused all contributions in Florida.) Another representative for a shareholder advocacy group then took the microphone and noted that “Disney from its very inception has always represented a safe haven for children,” before veering into homophobic and transphobic comments and asking Mr. Chapek to “ditch the politicization and gender ideology.”
In response, Mr. Chapek noted the contrasting shareholder concerns. “I think all the participants on today’s call can see how difficult it is to try to thread the needle between the extreme polarization of political viewpoints,” he said.
“What we want Disney to be is a place where people can come together,” he continued. “My opinion is that, when someone walks down Main Street and comes in the gates of our parks, they put their differences aside and look at what they have as a shared belief — a shared belief of Disney magic, hopes, dreams and imagination.”
Operating income at Disney’s traditional television business — ESPN, ABC, Disney Channel, FX, Freeform, National Geographic and other networks — reached $2.8 billion, a 15 percent increase. Disney attributed the improved results to lower programing costs and higher fees from cable distributors (based on multiyear contracts). Costs at ABC fell primarily because of the timing of the Academy Awards, which aired later than in past years — after the quarter ended — because of the pandemic.
Profit in the quarter, the second in Disney’s fiscal year, totaled $912 million, up 95 percent from a pandemic-battered $468 million a year earlier. When one-time items are excluded, per-share profit rose 32 percent, to 79 cents from 60 cents. (Analysts had expected about 27 cents.)
Revenue was $15.6 billion, a 13 percent decline from a year earlier.
Disney estimated that the pandemic had a $1.2 billion impact on its theme park and cruise empire. As a result, the division had a loss of $403 million. Disneyland in California, two theme parks in France and the Disney Cruise Line were closed during the recent quarter. Disneyland reopened on April 30 with capacity limited to 25 percent, as mandated by California officials.
Mr. Chapek told analysts that the company’s largest tourist destination, Walt Disney World in Florida, would benefit from the relaxed mask-wearing guidance given by federal officials on Thursday.
“That is very big news for us,” he said. Vacationing “in Florida in summer with a mask on can be quite daunting.”
In terms of theme park demand for the months ahead, Mr. Chapek noted that Disney research had found that “intent to visit” by families was on a par with 2019, suggesting a bounce-back for the resorts once capacity restrictions and other measures (mandatory face coverings) are lifted or relaxed.
In another signal of a recovery, Disney said two films, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” and “Free Guy,” starring Ryan Reynolds, would receive exclusive 45-day runs in theaters before appearing on Disney+. “Free Guy” is scheduled to arrive in cinemas on Aug. 13 and “Shang-Chi,” a Marvel spectacle, in early September.
Late in the third quarter of a March game between the Utah Jazz and the New Orleans Pelicans, Rudy Gobert, the Jazz’s 7-foot-1 center, caught a pass and slammed down a dunk as the Pelicans’ Josh Hart leapt to contest the shot.
As the two National Basketball Association players jogged back down the court, television viewers could see Mr. Gobert bark out something to Mr. Hart.
Trash talk? Sort of.
“As I was running back on defense, I told him that would be a nice Top Shot Moment right there,” Mr. Gobert said in an interview. Mr. Hart said he had responded with a four-letter word that was not suitable to be printed.
LeBron James reverse windmill dunk Top Shot, for example, sold for $210,000 in March.
Nearly four dozen N.B.A. players have created Top Shot accounts, from All-Stars like Mr. Gobert to journeymen and rookies. Some have collected just a handful of clips, while others own dozens or hundreds.
The trend is an engaging — if expensive — way for fans and players to celebrate exhilarating basketball plays. It’s also a moneymaker for the N.B.A., which lost about $1.5 billion in revenue last season between the pandemic’s emptying arenas and China’s pausing the broadcasting of basketball games over a geopolitical dispute.
The N.B.A. has long been one of the most innovative leagues in finding ways to make money. It finished its 2019-20 season in a Disney World bubble and squeezed in a condensed All-Star Weekend in March to recoup some lost revenue. But with arenas only now slowly filling, Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner, recently told Time magazine that the league would still miss out on 30 percent to 35 percent of revenue this season.
dozens of N.B.A. players blew their millions on risky investments, but the league has pushed in recent years for its young stars to educate themselves financially.
Top Shot is risky, too, because the price of the highlights could plummet at any time if people decide they are no longer interested. One warning sign: Top Shot’s sales last month, $82 million, were down from $208 million in March and $224 million in February, according to CryptoSlam, an NFT tracker. Dapper said that the marketplace was still growing, and that April’s numbers were more normal after a brief NFT boom.
“It’s a marketplace that obviously is purely built on demand and scarcity,” said Darren Heitner, a lawyer and a sports law professor at the University of Florida. Between shifting interests and the ebbing of the pandemic, he said, “there’s a lot of reasons you could see this marketplace drying up and find individuals left holding the bag.”
valued at $2.6 billion in a recent funding round. In April, The Information reported that Dapper was raising another round that would value it at more than $7.5 billion.
streams live on YouTube while opening Top Shot packs.
Of course, it’s still the N.B.A., and the fraternity of Top Shot aficionados engages in plenty of antics and inside jokes.
In the locker room and on team plane rides, Mr. Ross and teammates Cole Anthony and Michael Carter-Williams answer questions from curious coaches and debate which vintage basketball play would make the best Top Shot.
“We’re making jokes, like, in-game,” Mr. Ross said. In a game against the Washington Wizards, for instance, Mr. Ross had an impressive dunk, and Mr. Carter-Williams told him as they ran back down the court that he hoped it would become a Top Shot.
In San Francisco, the Golden State Warriors guard Damion Lee — also a Dapper investor — is trying to start a new tradition: having players swap Moments instead of jerseys after games.
The king of Top Shot, though, is a Sacramento King: the rookie guard Tyrese Haliburton.
Bored one day in February, Mr. Haliburton checked Top Shot and saw the value of a Moment featuring him had grown by $600. He posted about it on Twitter and immediately saw another spike, piquing his interest.
“From there on, I was full go with Top Shot,” said Mr. Haliburton, who owns 163 Moments and has spent months exhorting other players to get involved.
During one postgame interview, he even urged Sacramento journalists to pool their money to buy a $10,000 highlight of his 6-foot-4 teammate Buddy Hield dunking over 7-foot Mitchell Robinson of the New York Knicks.
“There’s only 50 in existence, and you will never see Buddy do that again,” he said. They laughed at the advice; Mr. Haliburton, who makes $3.8 million this season, clearly did not know how little journalists earn, they said.
The next day, the Hield Moment surged to $50,000 in value.
Mr. Haliburton, who also invested in Dapper recently, has persuaded at least four other Kings to join Top Shot, including Harrison Barnes, who was “hooked.”
Mr. Barnes, the secretary-treasurer of the players association, is another veteran with a reputation for financial smarts. He owns 242 Top Shot Moments, the most of any player.
Mr. Haliburton thinks the Top Shot bets will pay off.
“I have a real belief that this is the future of our world,” he said. “I’m just going to keep collecting.”
Business lobbyists and conservative think tanks are not big fans of President Biden’s proposed tax increases on the wealthy.
The Tax Foundation has said that Biden wants to raise the capital gains tax to “highs not seen since the 1920s.” Suzanne Clark of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce called the same plan “outrageous.” Jay Timmons of the National Association of Manufacturers called the proposed increase in the corporate tax rate “archaic.” And Brendan Bechtel, the chief executive of the construction company that bears his family name, said that “it doesn’t feel fair.”
All of this rhetoric has obscured a basic fact about Biden’s tax plan: It would not actually raise tax rates on the rich to high levels, historically speaking.
If all of Biden’s proposed tax increases passed — on the corporate tax, as well as on investment taxes and income taxes for top earners — the total federal tax rate on the wealthy would remain significantly lower than it was in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. It would also remain somewhat lower than during the mid-1990s, based on an analysis that Gabriel Zucman of the University of California, Berkeley, did for The Morning.
just how far taxes on the wealthy have fallen over the past 70 years. In the decades just after World War II, many corporations paid about half of their profits in federal taxes. (Shareholders, who are disproportionately affluent, effectively pay those taxes). Today, corporate taxes are only about one-fourth as large, as a share of G.D.P., as they were in the 1950s and ’60s.
The declines are not all ancient history, either. For most of the past quarter-century, taxes on the affluent have continued falling, including the rates on corporate profits, personal income, stock dividends, stock holdings and inheritances. Barack Obama reversed some of the declines, but only some. “The net effect over the past 25 years of federal income tax policy has been to reduce the overall revenue collected from top earners,” Owen Zidar, a Princeton University economist, told me.
Whether you like Biden’s plan or dislike it, it is not radical. For that reason, it is highly unlikely to have the harmful effects on economic growth that its critics are claiming. Remember: In the 1990s, the last time tax rates were as high as the ones Biden has proposed, the economy boomed. It also grew rapidly after World War II, when tax rates were higher yet.
History suggests that tax rates on the wealthy are not the main determinant of economic growth (and, if anything, higher taxes on the rich can sometimes lift growth). The main effect of Biden’s tax plan probably won’t be on the level of G.D.P. It will instead be on the relative tax burden that wealthy people pay. When they criticize the plan as unfair, archaic and outrageous, they are really saying that they enjoy paying low tax rates.
admit up to 62,500 refugees in the next six months, reversing his decision to keep a lower limit set by Donald Trump.
The E.P.A. plans to limit a class of climate-warming chemicals used in air-conditioning and refrigeration.
Richard Cordray, an ally of Senator Elizabeth Warren, will oversee federal student aid, putting him at the center of Democratic disagreements over forgiving debt.
Representative Liz Cheney, the No. 3 House Republican, accused Trump of “poisoning our democratic system” by making false claims of voter fraud.
The country’s increasing diversity isn’t doing as much to help Democrats as liberals hope, Nate Cohn explains.
Business and Media
Bill and Melinda Gates are divorcing, raising questions about the future of their philanthropic foundation.
Verizon will sell Yahoo and AOL to the private equity firm Apollo for $5 billion, about half the amount it paid to buy the companies.
Pandemic disruptions have led to shortages of — and price increases for — lumber, cleaning products, microchips and other commodities.
The Los Angeles Times announced its next top editor: Kevin Merida, previously of ESPN and The Washington Post.
Other Big Stories
When the World Trade Organization meets this week, should it waive Covid vaccine patents to increase access for poorer countries?
Yes: Biden should support a waiver to save lives, Walden Bello writes in The Times. Doing so would also guard against the emergence of deadlier variants, Michelle Goldberg notes.
No: Vaccines are hard to make, so waivers alone won’t lift supply, the Center for Global Development’s Rachel Silverman and others argue. And companies have shown they will work voluntarily to increase doses, Andrei Iancu writes in Stat.
A Times classic: Can you guess whether these neighborhoods voted for Biden or for Trump?
Lives Lived: He was born Joseph Jacques Ahearn, but his mother thought Jacques d’Amboise would be better suited to the ballet world. After he became a dancer, d’Amboise found stardom in New York and Hollywood. He died at 86.
ARTS AND IDEAS
the critic Jesse Green writes in The Times.
The album, “All the Girls,” also featuring the soprano Sally Wilfert, came out two days after Luker’s death in December. Green calls it beautiful and funny. (It includes this song, which is worth watching.)
Tonight, Luker’s colleagues and friends will tell stories and sing songs from her career at a fund-raising concert you can stream. — Claire Moses, Morning writer
When Mr. Merida started at The Undefeated, it was a stalled digital project with an unhappy staff — a would-be publication that, even after a nearly two-year development period, existed only as a web page with links to 19 articles.
He got The Undefeated up and running, quickly establishing its editorial identity. The site’s relevance grew as prominent Black athletes embraced activism amid the rise of the social justice movement after the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others.
In his first editor’s letter at The Undefeated, Mr. Merida held up the example of his father, Jesse Merida, as someone who refused to be defeated by pervasive racism and the limited opportunities that went with it.
His father, he wrote, had gotten a degree in geology at what is now Wichita State University and did not listen to those who advised him to go into teaching rather than trying for a career in the more closed-off world of science. He ended up “earning his living as a janitor at one point while waiting for his opportunity,” Mr. Merida wrote, and was finally hired as a technician with the U.S. Geological Survey, a job that led to a long career, among mostly white researchers, with the Smithsonian Institution.
Today in Business
At the Disney-owned ESPN, Mr. Merida became a close adviser to Jimmy Pitaro, the network’s chairman, and served as the chair of ESPN’s editorial board. He also played integral roles in its newsroom, helping oversee its investigative coverage and the television shows “E:60” and “Outside the Lines,” while also managing its standards team.
Mr. Merida, who was born in Wichita, Kan., grew up in the Washington area, where he still lives. He is married to the author Donna Britt, who has worked as a reporter and columnist at The Washington Post, USA Today and The Detroit Free Press.
He studied journalism at Boston University and started his career as a reporter for The Milwaukee Journal. After a decade at The Dallas Morning News, he joined The Post in 1993 as a congressional reporter.