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NEW YORK – ESPN has sealed a new deal with the National Football League that will keep Monday Night Football at the cable sports leader through the 2021 season, the network announced Thursday.
The eight-year pact gives ESPN 17 MNF games each season, the Pro Bowl, NFL draft (which ESPN has covered since 1980), 3D rights and continued Spanish-language rights.
Additionally, the deal includes enhanced international, digital and studio rights that let ESPN distribute the games in Brazil, the Caribbean, Africa, Middle East, Israel and Europe. Digital rights include simulcasts of games and related programming on tablet devices via the WatchESPN App.
And ESPN gets to expand its studio programming significantly to more than 500 new hours of NFL-branded content each year. To that end, beginning this week, the pre-game Sunday NFL Countdown will be bumped up to three hours and NFL Live will go to one hour. The network also will launch multiple new programs including NFL 32 (which has ESPN analysts discussing all 32 teams) and NFL Kickoff, a weekly Friday night program that will kick-start the coming weekend’s NFL games.
But the cost of new deal — $15 billion-plus — will not mean increased affiliate fees, according to George Bodenheimer, ESPN and ABC Sports President.
“Never,” said Bodenheimer.
On a conference call with reporters, Bodenheimer was peppered with questions about the rising costs of sports rights and the price tag for the new deal, which will cost ESPN an estimated $1.9 billion a year, up from $1.1 billion.
“There is no portion of our fee that is associated with any one piece of product,” he said, stressing that ESPN will keep its affiliate fees flat.
The network’s subscriber fees are already the richest in the business at more than $4 per subscriber per month.
“That fee that we ask of our affiliates is based on the overall value of our service,” he added.
The MNF deal technically kicks off with the 2014 season, but allows ESPN to immediately expand its NFL-branded programming and stream games on tablets. And NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that the League is in active “discussions” with its other broadcast partners — CBS, Fox and NBC — on new deals. Those deals still have two years left on them; Fox pays more than $700 million a year while CBS ponies up north of $600 million for its Sunday afternoon package.
Bodenheimer also said ESPN is still interested in the new Thursday-night package that the NFL will launch with the 2012-13 season. But Goodell said he does not expect to complete that deal this year.
ESPN has carried MNF since 2006, when it moved from ABC. The franchise is coming off a record-breaking season averaging 14.7 million viewers and accounting for cable’s 12 biggest audiences among total viewers in 2010.
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