There has been a lot of debate over what’s in store for the NFL media rights after their current deals with ESPN / ABC and CBS, Fox and NBC expire (after 2021-22 for ESPN / ABC, after 2022-23 for the other networks) , but the general consensus seems to be that all of those networks are likely to remain involved, perhaps with some tweaks to their packages. A packet change with major implications could come from ESPNs Monday Night Football package; As we discussed in February, ESPN has been looking for more flexible options for getting better games on MNF, perhaps even moving MNF to ABC and ESPN. And Andrew Marchand from The New York Post wrote on Wednesday that that flex extension looks like a strong possibility right now, as well as that ESPN / ABC is getting into the Super Bowl rotation:
The NFL is discussing TV rights deals with its partners that can last 10 years and are worth more than $ 100 billion in total, The Post has learned.
… Sources said the league and its current partners are working on frameworks for deals that would hold Sunday afternoon games on CBS and Fox, “Monday Night Football” on ESPN / ABC and “Sunday Night Football” on NBC. ESPN / ABC is expected to add Super Bowls when all is said and done.
The deals aren’t around and the NFL could change course, but this is where it’s trending, according to sources.
… ABC / ESPN, owned by Disney, wanted better games if it kept its Monday night schedule. There is a possibility of flexible late season planning. While the bow would likely be more limited than on Sunday night, it could be done to eliminate MNF stinkers in December.
As Marchand goes on to point out, it’s not yet entirely clear how this would work in ESPN and ABC terms. Some ESPN MNF games are currently airing simultaneously on ABC, but not all. And there are a few important things to keep in mind with ESPN to ABC shifts. Yes, those bring in a larger potential audience (as discussed here recently, the main ESPN network was estimated to reach about 80 million TV homes earlier this year, while an estimated 116.4 million people can watch games on TV broadcasts) , and that’s something the NFL really wants (that’s why we’ve seen many MNF and playoff games simulcast on ABC lately). But MNF is a big part of why ESPN is able to charge an industry-leading fee per subscriber (estimated at about $ 9 per month per subscriber for all ESPN networks by NBC’s Alex Sherman last fall). And the more of that goes to ABC simulcasts, the less important ESPN becomes in its own right, and the less it can do to claim the current per-subscriber fee.
However, it is at least noteworthy that there is more discussion about flexing for MNF games. And that’s remarkable, even if it’s more limited than what NBC gets for Sunday night. If there’s a really good MNF match, that package usually performs pretty well for ESPN (and for ABC, if there’s a simulcast). But many of those matchups over the years have not been good, to the point where ESPN executives have even publicly lobbied for a better schedule and only received it slightly. Bending doesn’t solve everything, but even limited bending power could make MNF much more relevant late in the season. And it might be worth it for ESPN / ABC (and parent company Disney) to boost what they pay to the NFL if they can add not only Super Bowls, but an improved MNF package as well.
Keep in mind that this is just one of many reports on what’s in store for the NFL TV negotiations. Much of this has been discussed throughout the year, and even lately there have been many pieces of what could be happening. For example, this week saw a report by John Ourand from Sports Business Journal which the current TV partners of the NFL were no longer interested in Thursday night football (now showing on Fox, Amazon, and NFL Network), which suggests properties may only air on NFL Network and Amazon (or any other streaming company).
And while that report can absolutely go with what Marchand is saying here, it’s worth bearing in mind that much of what we have at this point is reports rather than corroboration. And that’s worth bearing in mind with things like the schedule formula for a 17-game season; that is approved, but that season length has not yet been approved. But it certainly seems possible that we’ll see ESPN / ABC added to the Super Bowl rotation, and we’ll see them get some opportunities to improve their MNF package through flex scheduling.