SBD/September 19, 2011/Media

ESPN Reassures Distributors It Won't Charge More After Signing Big "MNF" Deal

ESPN is "hitting back against critics who publicly accused the media company of wild, indiscriminate spending" after it signed an extension for the rights to "MNF" for eight years, $15.2B, according to John Ourand in this week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. ESPN Exec VP/Sales & Marketing Sean Bratches said that he "fielded calls earlier this month, shortly after the deal was announced, from several video distributors who expressed concern over the nearly $2 billion annual price tag." Bratches said that he "allayed their fears that ESPN would seek to fund the deal through increases in their affiliate fees." Bratches "promised" distributors that ESPN "would not try to force them to pay an 'NFL tax.'" Ourand notes execs from "several large distributors confirmed Bratches' account and said that they were not alarmed by the size of ESPN's 'Monday Night Football' deal." Bratches said, "There is no NFL surcharge, and we're not seeking to negotiate one. The consumption of sports continues to grow on TV and all platforms." Ourand reports interviews with execs "from three of the biggest distributors suggest that ESPN's NFL price tag was expected and is not a huge concern." These execs said that they "are satisfied that ESPN does not make its content available for free on mobile or broadband platforms, as only authenticated subscribers can watch ESPN content on digital platforms" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 9/19 issue). In N.Y., Joseph Barracato noted currently ESPN "charges cable operators $4.89 a subscriber." ESPN "wants to increase that $7, and everyone expects that extra $2 will be passed along to customers." American Cable Association President & CEO Matthew Polka said that he "wouldn't be surprised to see Congress step in one day and make ESPN an a la carte choice like HBO" (N.Y. POST, 9/18).
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