Last Tuesday afternoon, ESPN chairman Jimmy Pitaro spoke with both NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and chief business officer Brian Rolapp to alert them about the planned sports streaming service that his network, Fox, and Warner Bros. Discovery would announce just a few hours later. During the call, the NFL executives made it clear that they were unsurprisingly not happy to be kept in the dark about such a public announcement, even if top ESPN and Fox executives had signed N.D.A.s that legally forbade them from discussing this plan with anyone outside the circle of trust. The NFL’s top executives, I’m told, felt blindsided—not only are the two organizations longtime partners, but executives from both have been in even more frequent communications recently as the league has contemplated taking an equity stake in the sports media giant. (Those talks are ongoing, though nothing is imminent.)
Almost immediately, the NFL had its lawyers scouring its contracts with ESPN and Fox to see if the media companies were within their legal rights to launch such a service. Alas, the initial review suggested that the league could not do anything to keep its games off the new streamer. (After all, it’s hard to imagine that the generously compensated business affairs teams and outside counsels at ESPN, Fox, and WBD would allow something like this to slip through the cracks.) But the NFL is still looking for potential loopholes.