NFL, ESPN Reportedly Face '$1 Billion Per Year' Gap in TV Rights Contract Talks

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured Columnist

A detail view of a ESPN Monday Night Football television camera and ESPN banner is seen on the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game between the Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings, Monday, Nov. 16, 2020, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Kamil Krzaczynski)
Kamil Krzaczynski/Associated Press

The NFL and ESPN apparently have some significant distance between them as they negotiate a new television rights deal.

Sports Business Journal's John Ourand reported the gap started at roughly $1 billion annually, adding neither side seems to be willing to give any ground at the moment. Per Ourand (h/t ProFootballTalk's Mike Florio), the NFL was initially seeking $3.5 billion per year, while ESPN offered $2.4 billion per year.

The NFL signed a $15.2 billion deal with ESPN through the 2021 season to keep Monday Night Football on the network, extending an MNF partnership that began in 2006.

CNBC's Alex Sherman reported Friday the NFL was looking to double the money it's receiving from its broadcasting contracts across the board. However, the league was getting some resistance from Disney, which owns ESPN:

"NBC, CBS and Fox are likely to accept increases closer to 100% than Disney, which is currently paying much more than the three broadcast networks for its Monday Night Football package, said the people, who asked not to be named because the negotiations are private.

"... Disney has already rejected paying anywhere close to $3.8 billion per year for its new deal, said two of the people. Disney CEO Bob Chapek alluded to pushing back on the NFL’s asking price during his company’s earnings conference call last week."

According to Sherman, Disney is looking to add a second Monday night game and wants ABC to be in the rotation with NBC, CBS and Fox to carry the Super Bowl. Those requests, in turn, are causing the NFL to demand such a significant increase.

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Days earlier, Pro Football Talk's Peter King reported ESPN "wants a stronger Monday night schedule" and that schedule flexing could be part of the equation.

In recent years, many fans have come to see NBC's Sunday Night Football as the premier slot, in part because NBC has the ability to flex out what looks like a lackluster matchup on paper for a more intriguing contest late in the season.

King spoke to a source who said the NFL is expected to have new contracts with all of its network partners finalized "within a month." He noted that could allow the league to have more money coming in to help offset the COVID-19-related financial losses.