SBJ/September 12-18, 2011/Media

ESPN, NFL bullish on new programming ideas

ESPN and the NFL agreed to terms on an eight-year extension to their media deal that is worth $1.9 billion a year and extends their relationship through the 2021 season. The deal gives ESPN many more highlight, digital and international rights than it has had previously. But despite paying more than any other NFL TV partner, ESPN still has no guarantee that it will get a playoff game. Staff writer John Ourand spoke separately with two of the new deal’s key architects, NFL Media’s chief operating officer, Brian Rolapp, and ESPN’s executive vice president of content, John Skipper.

What’s the coolest part of this deal for you?
Rolapp
Rolapp
: The fact that they are going to take those studio shows cross-platform in the form of authentication is different. When we did this deal before, new platforms and authentication were all concepts on a piece of paper on somebody’s PowerPoint. Now, something’s actually starting to happen and the market is moving.

Skipper: Because it’s new, I’m excited about all the new studio hours. We have 500 new hours of studio time. We’re going to do the “NFL 32” show every day. We’re going to try a format where we have a correspondent for each of the 32 teams and we’ll fly around and get news about the league. It gives a chance for Chris Mortensen and Suzy Kolber to get some more time. I’m excited to go to three hours on “Countdown.”

Why isn’t ESPN guaranteed a playoff game?
Skipper
Rolapp
: We’ve benefited greatly from the wide distribution of our games. The bulk of those games has been over free television. That still matters. People have been predicting the demise of that notion. We haven’t seen it yet. Should we decide it’s time, we now have an option in front of us.

Skipper: We want to be in the postseason. We didn’t choose to have a big contretemps there. In fact, they accommodated us by saying they would create a path for at least a trial. However, they did say clearly that they want that path to be in their control. It’s their option.

What is that path?
Skipper: It’s quite simple. The NFL, should they choose beginning in 2014, will provide us with a playoff game.

Will the amount of highlight rights compete with NFL Network?
Rolapp: What ESPN does so well is promote our product and create product for our fans. It’s very easy to measure our business if it’s healthy. Is consumption going up? The answer this year is yes.

Skipper: The NFL understands that as a partner, one of the things ESPN brings to the table is that we make the NFL a 365-day-a-year sport. They do that, too, with their network. The specifics around highlight rights was done with Steve Bornstein, who runs NFL Network. I’m happy to say that he understands the value that we bring to the league. For all of these shows, we’re able to use the highlights we need. If we’re doing an NFL-branded show, it’s commentary and highlights. We have the right to do as much as we need.

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