NFL’s New TV Deal Is Set: ESPN to Get 8 Sunday Night Games

The Washington Post

The National Football League will announce a new three-year television contract that will include a package of games on ESPN, according to sources close to the negotiations.

Each of the three major networks--ABC, CBS and NBC--will pay about 7% less than the combined $493 million they paid for rights in 1986, but the NFL will make up that revenue by branching out to cable television for the first time.

ESPN, an all-sports cable network, will televise eight Sunday night games, four exhibition games and the Pro Bowl.


The Super Bowl will continue on a rotating basis among the networks, in the order of ABC, NBC and CBS.

When ESPN televises a game, it still will be available via over-the-air television in the visiting team’s market and in the home team’s market if the game is sold out 72 hours in advance. The NFL always has required all teams’ away games to be televised back to their home markets.

The new deal is expected to be unveiled by the start of the league’s annual meetings Monday in Hawaii. In the new contract, CBS and NBC will retain their rights to Sunday afternoon telecasts and ABC will retain “Monday Night Football.”

The networks reportedly lost a combined $75 million televising NFL football last year.

ESPN, which is received in about 41 million of the nation’s 89 million television households, won out among several cable bidders.

HBO, WTBS and USA also expressed an interest in a prime-time NFL package, and a consortium of cable-system operators, the Cable Football Network, was formed in a vain attempt to secure rights to NFL games.

ESPN spokesman Chris LaPlaca would not confirm that the cable network had closed an NFL deal. And Val Pinchbeck, the NFL’s director of broadcasting, said: “Final arrangements on the TV negotiations have not been reached.”

The NFL’s $2.1-billion, five-year contract with the networks expired after the 1986 season.