Monday Night Football

There’s been a lot of discussion about what’s ahead for 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 has seemed to be that all of those networks are likely to stay involved, just perhaps with some modifications to their packages. One package modification with major implications may come from ESPN’s Monday Night Football package; as we discussed in February, ESPN has been looking for more flex options to get better games on MNF, which might even see MNF heading to ABC as well as ESPN. And Andrew Marchand of The New York Post wrote Wednesday that that flex expansion currently looks like a strong possibility, as well as ESPN/ABC getting into the Super Bowl rotation:

The NFL is discussing TV rights deals with its partners that could be for 10 years and far exceed $100 billion in total value, The Post has learned.

…Sources said the league and its current partners are working on frameworks for agreements that would keep the 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 are not completed and the NFL could change course, but this is where it is trending, according to sources.

…ABC/ESPN, owned by Disney, has wanted better games if it retains its Monday night schedule. There is a possibility of late-season flexible scheduling. Though the flexing would likely be more limited than for Sunday nights, it could be done to eliminate the MNF stinkers in December. 

As Marchand goes on to note, it’s not quite clear yet how this would work in terms of ESPN and ABC. Some ESPN MNF games are currently simulcast on ABC, but not all of them. 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 around 80 million TV homes earlier this year, while 116.4 million people are estimated to be able to watch games on broadcast TV), and that’s something the NFL very much wants (which is why we’ve often seen MNF and playoff games simulcast on ABC recently). But MNF is a big part of why ESPN is able to command an industry-leading per-subscriber fee (estimated as about $9 per month per subscriber for all ESPN networks by NBC’s Alex Sherman last fall). And the more of that that moves to ABC simulcasts, the less important ESPN on its own becomes, and the less it can do to command its current per-subscriber fee.

At any rate, though, it’s certainly notable that there’s been further discussion of flexing for MNF games. And that’s notable even if it’s more limited than what NBC gets for Sunday nights. When there is an actually-good MNF matchup, that package tends to perform quite well for ESPN (and for ABC, if there’s a simulcast). But many of those matchups over the years have not been good, to a point where ESPN executives have even publicly lobbied for a better schedule, and only somewhat received it. Flexing doesn’t solve everything, but even a limited flexing capability could make MNF much more relevant late in the season. And it may well be worth it for ESPN/ABC (and corporate parent Disney) to boost what they’re paying the NFL if they can add not only Super Bowls, but also an improved MNF package.

It should be kept in mind that this is just one of many reports on what’s ahead with the NFL TV negotiations. Much of this has been discussed all year, and even recently, there have been a lot of pieces talking about what might happen. For example, this week saw a report from John Ourand of Sports Business Journal that the NFL’s current TV partners were not interested in further Thursday Night Football (now seen on Fox, Amazon, and NFL Network), suggesting that property may be heading to broadcasts solely on NFL Network and Amazon (or another streaming company).

And while that report absolutely can coexist with what Marchand is saying here, it’s worth keeping in mind that much of what we have at the moment is reports rather than confirmation. And that’s worth keeping in mind with things like the schedule formula for a 17-game season; that’s been approved, but that season length hasn’t yet been approved. But it certainly does seem possible that we’ll see ESPN/ABC added to the Super Bowl rotation, and that we’ll see them given some opportunities to improve their MNF package through flex scheduling.

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz is a staff writer for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He previously worked at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.