SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Media

NFL quiet as a Mouse over what Disney must pay to keep the NFL

The Walt Disney Co. is waiting for the NFL to put a dollar figure on what it will take to keep the NFL, a company source says. It’s been two months since Disney offered $900 million for ESPN to keep football on Sunday nights and $450 million for “Monday Night Football” on ABC.

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and Disney Chief Operating Officer Robert Iger have met at least twice since then, including one meeting in the last two weeks. But the talks have not progressed past the league indicating Disney will have to spend more to keep all of its NFL rights.

Also back on the table, a Disney source said, is the idea of flip-flopping Sunday and Monday nights, with ESPN becoming the “Monday Night Football” rights holder and ABC showing games on Sunday nights.

The $900 million offer from ESPN probably has considerable play in it, as the network might spend as much as $1 billion to hold onto a full season of NFL rights. The Sunday night package is still split into separate first-half and second-half rights agreements, and the NFL can extract a premium for granting ESPN both, rather than allowing a rival like TNT, which previously had a half-season of rights, from returning.

As for the $450 million ABC bid, the source said there is little room for negotiation off that number, and ABC is prepared to lose “Monday Night Football” if the price isn’t right.

HOOPS RATINGS STEADY: College basketball ratings are holding steady compared with last season on most networks. CBS is flat at a 1.8 household rating through 17 telecasts. Ratings for the male 18-34 and male 18-49 demographics were off a tenth of a point each, to a 1.0 and 1.1, respectively.

ESPN is up slightly for its 86 telecasts, averaging a 1.1 compared to a 1.0 last season. But it has shown healthy gains in the key male demographics, averaging a 0.9 for both the 18 to 34s and 18 to 49s. Last season those demos averaged a 0.6 and a 0.7, respectively.

ESPN2 college basketball ratings are flat, but up slightly in total households, 428,000 vs. 416,000. That network has shown 20 more games than last season to this point, 102 total, primarily because college basketball has been used as a replacement for canceled NHL games.

The one network to struggle with college basketball this year has been ABC, averaging a 1.5 rating for four games. Last season, it had averaged a 1.9.

COMCAST SPORTS PROGRAMMING: With multiple regional sports networks as well as regional news channels in its stable, Comcast Corp. is starting to develop some sports programming intended for national distribution. The first such foray is “Out of Bounds,” a half-hour sports interview magazine show produced through the CN8 local news station out of Philadelphia.

The show, which debuts March 7 and will air each weeknight at 11 p.m. local time, will air in markets from Sacramento to Boston, reaching a total of 14.6 million homes.

Andy Bernstein can be reached at abernstein@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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