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Volume 20 No. 46
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ESPN signs radio deals with five NFL teams

ESPN is getting into the Sunday afternoon NFL business this season, thanks to deals ESPN Radio cut with five NFL teams.

The Dolphins, Giants, Jets, Patriots and Steelers sold their out-of-market radio rights to ESPN, essentially allowing
ESPN’s terrestrial radio network to carry those games nationally. ESPN Radio now can broadcast Sunday afternoon games involving those teams anywhere outside of their home markets.

Financial terms of the multiyear deals are not known, but this marks the first time ESPN will broadcast Sunday afternoon NFL games on any platform. The rights are for radio only; no digital rights are involved with the deal, meaning that ESPN can’t stream the games.

ESPN Radio listeners outside of the Jets’ and Patriots’ markets will hear the teams’ games.
“The real value of getting into this business is that it is a space that we have not been in,” said Tim McCarthy, ESPN’s senior vice president and general manager of audio programming and on-air talent planning. “It’s something that complements our existing play-by-play properties, as well as our talk network.”

ESPN will produce one or two games a week nationally through these deals. It will not run the out-of-market games alongside in-market games. “We cannot air in a market where there is an existing game in that market,” McCarthy said. “If the Redskins are playing in Washington at 1 p.m., and we have a 4 p.m. game, we can air at 4 p.m. We can’t air at 1 p.m. It’s kind of a gentleman’s agreement. We’re not going to go head-to-head with an existing NFL club.”

Dial Global, formerly known as Westwood One, holds the NFL’s national radio rights to the prime-time package and the postseason through 2017. Dial Global also holds out-of-market radio rights for several teams, as does Compass Media Networks and Sports USA Radio.

These radio broadcasters need permission from both competing teams to syndicate the game. If ESPN has the Giants and Compass has the Cowboys, neither can broadcast the game without the consent of the other team. That means that the radio networks have to work out some kind of deal so one or both can broadcast the game, or neither can broadcast the game.

The ESPN move is significant as it announces the media company’s entrance into the NFL’s radio play-by-play marketplace, and ESPN’s executives say they will be looking to pick up the out-of-market rights for more teams.

“We’re in this for the long term,” said Traug Keller, ESPN’s senior vice president, production business divisions. “We want to stay in the business. We think NFL content is an important part of our play-by-play package. The longer the better.”

ESPN’s package of play-by-play rights includes long-term deals for MLB, NBA and BCS games as well as the World Cup.

ESPN hasn’t decided who will call these games yet, but said NFL analysts Herm Edwards, Bill Polian and Damien Woody would be involved in the broadcasts. Ad sales will be sold around these specific games; ESPN does not plan to package it with other NFL programming, McCarthy said.

ESPN credited its existing relationships with the teams for its ability to cut these deals. “We have a very good relationship with the Kraft Sports Group up in Boston with, and with the Jets we have the local rights in New York,” Keller said. “Pre-existing relationships helped.”