NFL double whammy

Two games launch ESPN's 'MNF' voyage

The National Football League has engineered its first regular-season doubleheader for “Monday Night Football” on Sept. 11, intent on giving ESPN a royal launch as the network takes over the “MNF” franchise from ABC.

Starting at 7 p.m. ET on the first Monday of the NFL season, the Minnesota Vikings travel to Washington, D.C., to battle the Redskins, followed by the San Diego Chargers at the Oakland Raiders at 10:15.

The NFL is going out of its way to bolster ESPN because the network ponied up a record $1.1 billion a year for an eight-year contract to carry “MNF,” a much stiffer license fee than that shelled out by Fox ($712.5 million a year for Sunday afternoon games), CBS ($622.5 million, also for Sunday afternoon) and NBC ($600 million for the Sunday night package of games relinquished by ESPN).

The license fee is particularly tough for ESPN because, unlike the three broadcast networks, it gets shut out of the Super Bowl rotation.

In another break from NFL standards, the league has scheduled its first Thanksgiving Day tripleheader, driven by a push to herald the first regular-season game to play on the NFL Network. Young net forked over $500 million a year for a lineup of eight games that will alternate between Thursdays and Saturdays, from Nov. 23 through the end of the season.

The Denver Broncos will visit the Kansas City Chiefs for the Thanksgiving night game at 8, and the NFL Network will do the pre- and post-game shows from Kansas City. CBS will carry the first game of the Thanksgiving Day doubleheader (Miami at Detroit at 12:30 p.m. ET) and Fox will carry the second (Tampa Bay at Dallas at 4:15 p.m. ET).