ESPN pays $1.9 BILLION dollars per year for their NFL rights in a contract with the league that runs through the year 2021. That $1.9 billion dollars exceeds the GDP of 33 countries as listed by the United Nations. This includes an expanded arsenal of television, internet, and mobile rights as well as increased highlights across ESPN platforms. Nevertheless, the crown jewel and the key resource for ESPN, why they are paying billions instead of merely hundreds of millions, is the right to broadcast 17 games of Monday Night Football.
The fact that ESPN paid any money beyond what it costs for a fountain drink at Speedway for the Giants-Vikings debacle this past Monday night is astounding. By all accounts, it was one of the worst, most unwatchable games in NFL history. Josh Freeman became just the 5th QB since the merger to throw 50 passes with under 40% completion percentage. Neither team averaged more than 3.5 yards per play. Peyton Hillis scored a TD for crying out loud. And yet, it was beamed to the entire nation. And because America is addicted to the NFL like it's Walter White's finest product, it was watched by 13 million people.
Viewership aside, the amount of money put forth for one awful game of football got me thinking. Sure, the NFL is the most valuable television product in the world at the moment. But couldn't ESPN have put its enormous mountain of money to better use? Like say, an entire season of English Premier League soccer, valued at $83.3 million per year.
It's not a direct comparison given the impossibility of quantifying just how much one MNF game is worth in the scope of ESPN's contract with the NFL. However, even if you value last night's game at $100 million dollars instead of $118.7 million (1.9 billion divided by 17) it's astounding just how many top sporting events could be had for that price. It's just another sign of the NFL's dominance and the incredibly high price networks have to pay to air the league's games. All of the values below have been previously reported publicly and are annual costs at $100 million dollars or less…
100 million – 2010 and 2014 World Cups
100 million – USGA rights including the Men's and Women's US Open
~90 million – UFC on Fox
83.3 million – EPL season
80 million – Rose Bowl
80 million – Sugar Bowl
75 million – US Open Tennis
55 million – Orange Bowl
~45 million – Big East rights
25 million – British Open
20 million – AAC rights
~18 million – MLS season
12 million – WNBA season
~10 million – IndyCar season
7.5 million – Little League World Series
5 million – Kentucky Derby
Free – America's Cup sailing