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ESPN, facing headwinds, might still reverse its slide

ESPN has been a major profit center for Disney, but it's shedding cable subscribers in droves. | David Kohl/Associated Press

NEW YORK — Two years ago, Disney CEO Bob Iger acknowledged that ESPN, long a major Disney profit center, was shedding subscribers.

Since then, concern over ESPN’s dimming prospects have dampened investor enthusiasm for Disney itself, despite its success with theme parks, Marvel superheroes and Star Wars films.

The big fear: ESPN might be facing long-term decline as more people quit cable or choose cheaper bundles without sports.

Over time, that could kick off a death spiral in which fewer subscribers mean less money for ESPN to use in bidding for sports rights; fewer games to air would then give more subscribers reason to quit.

But that gloomy outlook isn’t the only one. And Disney is readying itself for the future by buying a bigger stake in streaming service BAMTech for $1.6 billion.