Walt Disney Company and the National Football League have reached a tentative agreement on a new rights deal that will keep “Monday Night Football” at ESPN, according to a person familiar with the matter, and put ABC into the Super Bowl rotation for the first time in more than 15 years.
The two sides have not signed formal contracts, this person cautioned, and the pact could fall apart, but it’s widely acknowledged that the terms of a new agreement are in place. Sports Business Journal previously reported on the new terms.
“We don’t negotiate through the media,” an NFL spokesman said, adding, “There will be no further comment.” ESPN declined to make executives available for comment. Broad parameters of the pact, including the price increase for the rights and the number of years it will cover, could not be immediately learned.
All the networks with rights to broadcast professional football are expected to pay significant hikes to keep the NFL on board. The NFL has in some cases sought to double the fees for such big-audience programs as NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” or CBS’ and Fox’s Sunday-afternoon broadcasts. ESPN’s rights to broadcast “Monday Night Football” are believed to cost around $1.9 billion per year, compared to $1.1 billion paid in the previous contract that ended in 2013. Disney’s current deal with the NFL is slated to lapse at the end of next season, a year ahead of contracts with NBCUniversal, Fox Corp. and ViacomCBS.
In an era when more viewers of linear TV are migrating to streaming venues, keeping football is viewed as critical, and the corporate suites of Disney, Fox, NBCU and ViacomCBS are as focused on renewing NFL pacts as the actual negotiators. Although the NFL saw viewership drops this past season due to a surfeit of live sports broadcasts that had been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, the games continue to draw some of media’s biggest audiences — the kind advertisers and distributors crave.
Disney has campaigned for better terms for months. The company has tried a series of “mega-casts,” or broadcasts of football games across several of the TV networks in its portfolio that are tailored for specific audiences. Meanwhile, ESPN has woven elements from the broader Disney portfolio into the mix, like allusions to Marvel during the opening of a “MNF” game between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens.
Having ABC in the Super Bowl rotation may force a recalibration of financial expectations for the big media companies. The annual football showcase drives millions in ad revenue that can help make or break a fiscal quarter. CBS’ broadcast of Super Bowl LV earlier this month, for example, generated approximately $545 million in advertising from in-game commercials, according to Kantar, a tracker of ad spending — a record amount. Fox’s broadcast of Super Bowl LIV, meanwhile, spurred $450 million in ad spending.