Several sources say that ESPN's deal with the NFL included financials that were modeled on subscribers remaining flat.

ESPN viewed the pay-TV business as mature and did not expect growth, but they also saw no signs of cord cutting or subscriber losses.

Several ESPN executives internally pushed to let the broadcast networks cut their deals and set the market since ESPN was already paying the highest rights fee.

ESPN ultimately decided against that strategy because that was how they lost "Sunday Night Football" to NBC.