Networks’ Money Makes the NFL’s World Go Round
The NFL locked up new six-year deals this week with Fox and CBS for Sunday day games from 2006 to 2011 and the league and the television industry now are waiting for the other nickel to drop.
Of course, the NFL and television rights fees aren’t about nickels, they’re about billions of dollars.
* Sunday night games, which could be split into two packages, as was the case from 1990 to ’97, when ESPN and TNT each had half a season.
* Monday night games, which have been on ABC since 1970 but are not guaranteed to stay there.
* A new Thursday/Saturday prime-time cable package involving eight games late in the season.
The deals with Fox and CBS are worth $8 billion. The NFL got another $3.5 billion from DirectTV for continued exclusivity of the NFL Sunday Ticket pay package through 2010.
When the remaining deals are concluded, the NFL could be pocketing $20 billion to $22 billion over six years.
In 1960, Commissioner Pete Rozelle negotiated a $600,000 rights deal with one network, CBS.
The first billion-dollar deal was made in 1987, with CBS, NBC and ABC agreeing to pay a total of $1.89 billion over six years.
The first network to spend more than $1 billion on the NFL was Fox, which at the end of 1993 agreed to pay a then-staggering $1.58 billion over four years (1994 to ’97) for the NFC package.
So, what’s next? Can ABC hang onto Monday nights? Will NBC wrest it away and also get the new Thursday/Saturday package for one of its cable networks such as USA? Will ESPN have to share the Sunday night package? Will the league save some late-season games to put on its year-old NFL Network?
ESPN, which bills itself as the sports television leader, just about has to hang onto the NFL. ESPN, for now, can bid only on the Sunday night package. If it bids on any other package, such as Monday nights, then outsiders such as NBC and TNT will also be able to bid.
ABC and ESPN have exclusive bidding rights for another year, but only on their own packages.
Under the new deal, the Monday night rights-holder, now ABC, will not have a weekday prime-time exclusive, because games will also be on cable Thursday nights late in the season.
To compensate for that, the league has persuaded CBS and Fox to agree to a flexible schedule, the Monday night rights-holder getting to pick the best games toward the end of the season.
It could be nearly a year before the dust settles, although it would benefit the Disney entry of ABC-ESPN to get things done sooner rather than later.
When will the networks learn that when you allow only 3 1/2 hours for a football game these days, you’re asking for trouble?
On Oct. 30, ABC got caught in a bind when Michigan-Michigan State went into overtime, and the network switched away for the start of USC-Washington State in California and the state of Washington.
Last Saturday, it was FSN’s turn. The network cut away from Arizona State-Stanford in Southern California for the start of USC-Oregon State and missed the final two touchdowns in the Sun Devils’ thrilling victory.
Making matters worse, when a network cuts away from the end of a close game to show the start of another game, there’s always a long commercial break, plus pregame chatter.
The commercials are understandable because there are bills to pay, but the pregame chatter is not necessary.
FSN was also remiss Saturday in not offering updates on Arizona State-Stanford until the game was over.
Then, during the USC-Oregon State game, FSN didn’t have a live shot of the Trojans’ Dominique Byrd scoring his second touchdown. But then, considering the foggy conditions, it’s a wonder FSN cameramen didn’t miss more. And the conditions certainly didn’t make it easy for announcers Barry Tompkins and Petros Papadakis.
Also drawing complaints: When the San Diego Chargers are home and don’t sell out, their games are blacked out in Los Angeles. That includes games on NFL Sunday Ticket as well. But the Chargers announced Thursday that their game Dec. 5 against the Denver Broncos was sold out and would be televised by Channel 2.
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