SBJ/20080707/This Week's News

‘MNF’ offer on table in ESPN-NFL Net talks

ESPN has asked the NFL to extend its “Monday Night Football” rights deal through 2018, sources said, which would make it the league’s longest-ever TV contract. The current deal runs through 2013.

Given the swiftly changing media environment, the NFL has balked at agreeing to such a long-term deal. But the talks, which came during negotiations the two parties have had regarding merging NFL Network with ESPN Classic, underscore how the league is looking at unique ways to fix NFL Network’s distribution problems, which have bedeviled the channel since it first started carrying live games in November 2006.

Sources on all sides expressed pessimism that an ESPN deal would be struck any time soon; talks have been occurring on and off since 2005. In fact, the NFL also is talking with at least two of its other media partners about partnering on the NFL Network, according to a source familiar with the discussions.

The channel, which launched almost five years ago, has been embroiled in bitter carriage battles with the nation’s top cable operators and has seen its distribution dwindle to 35 million homes. The channel had expected to be in at least 50 million homes at this point.

“We have said before that our office is often having discussions on various matters with our TV partners,” an NFL Network spokesman said. “What we don’t discuss publicly is the status of those discussions and we are not going to start doing that this week.”

Disney made waves when it moved
“Monday Night Football” to
ESPN in 2006.

ESPN spokesman Chris LaPlaca said, “We are always in discussions with league partners about a variety of topics,” but would not comment further.

A source familiar with the talks said ESPN’s proposal to extend “MNF” to 2018 is not necessarily a nonstarter. In return, though, the NFL would require some sort of revenue-sharing arrangement with ESPN beyond the traditional rights fee — a deal point ESPN almost certainly would not agree to.

At 38 years, “MNF” is the longest-running sports broadcast on TV. Walt Disney Co., owner of ESPN and ABC, created waves in 2006 when it moved the show off broadcast on ABC to cable and ESPN.

Some critics have questioned whether ESPN is paying too much for its schedule of games. It pays $1.1 billion annually for a batch of TV and online rights, and its slate of live games has not been as appealing as NBC’s Sunday night coverage.

Nonetheless, ESPN has a financial reason to keep the games on its network: It has a clause in most of its cable operator contracts that allow it to charge a premium if it has the NFL games. If ESPN were to lose the games, its monthly license fee, which is about $4, would drop considerably.

The developments come as the Federal Communications Commission is set to consider an NFL complaint that Comcast has discriminated against the NFL Network in favor of its own sports channels.

Return to top
Video Powered By - Castfire CMS Powered By - Sitecore

Report a Bug