NFL: Inside the New ESPN $1.8 Billion Annual Rights Deal

Dan Levy@danlevythinksNational Lead WriterSeptember 8, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 13:  ESPN personality Chris Berman speaks onstage during The 2011 ESPY Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 13, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

ESPN and the NFL announced an extension to the network's rights deal today, pushing the annual cost of showing NFL content on the Worldwide Leader to an insane $1.8 billion per year, a 63 percent increase over the average price of their current deal, per SportsBusiness Daily.

What is ESPN getting for this ridiculous amount of money? More football, of course. Not only does the deal keep Monday Night Football with ESPN through the 2021 season, but it also gives the network even more football programming to work with.

I honestly didn't know this, but there are more highlights out there than ESPN currently shows. Who knew?! I didn't think it was possible either.

It turns out the NFL negotiates how much footage networks can show basically down to the minute, and with a 63 percent increase in fees, ESPN will be getting a nice bump in video to use, so much so that the company is planning a ridiculous amount of additional football coverage:

ESPN and ABC Sports President George Bodenheimer said: “With a multitude of shows, networks and platforms, ESPN will continue to cover the NFL like no other media company can.”

I haven't done the math, but there's a good probability that ESPN has more original NFL programming than the league's own 24-7 network. 

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 14:  ESPN talent Ron Jaworski and Jon Gruden arrive at the 2010 ESPY Awards at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on July 14, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images for ESPY)
Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images

The biggest coup for ESPN on the new deal may be the ability to stream Monday Night Football and NFL-themed studio shows on mobile devices through the Watch ESPN app. ESPN reportedly sought a wide-ranging deal for multiple wireless carriers, but the NFL won out for now, giving rights to just Verizon. (Those of us with FiOS feel sorry for the rest of you.)

With this deal comes an expanded Sunday NFL Countdown, now three hours long starting at 10 a.m. ET. The good news is that there should be more time for breaking news from Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter. The bad news is that there's more time for Chris Berman and his merry band of gridiron cacklers there to yuk up the football morning. Nothing, NOTHING, is that funny, guys.

Suzy Kolber will move to a studio role as part of the extended Countdown, which is a good thing. The bad thing is, they've paired her with Bill Parcells and Merril Hoge. The Tuna and the Factor Back? So sorry, Suzy. The only reason to watch those segments will be to count the number of times Parcells says "okay." Seriously, watch this weekend; Parcells says the fewest things per minute of any analyst on TV, okay? Mike Ditka's frenetic way of never finishing a sentence can poke at your nerves on an early Sunday morning, but nothing, okay, can grind a show to a halt, okay, like Parcells, okay?

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 05:  NFL Hall of Famers Jerry Rice (L) and Steve Young speak onstage during the 'Year of the Quarterback' panel at the ESPN portion of the 2011 Winter TCA press tour held at the Langham Hotel on January 5, 2011 in Pasadena, Californ
Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images


NFL Live will be expanding to one hour every single weekday of the year. I love Trey Wingo both as a host and a person, so there is nothing but good things to say about this announcement.

NFL 32, a new show starting next Tuesday, will feature Kolber, Mort and a rotating cast of NFL analysts discussing the biggest topics of all 32 teams. This show should be fine, if somewhat nondescript at this point in time.

NFL Kickoff will debut next Friday evening and feature Wingo and Mark Schlereth setting up the weekend games and talking more football because everyone loves more football so why not program more football on Friday nights so there's more football. More football, more football, more football.

Berman will be the host of this show for the first two weeks. For what reason, I do not know. Maybe Wingo is on another assignment. Maybe Berman feels the need to mark his territory before someone else at ESPN can have nice things. I bet it's the latter.

Audibles is a "pro football-themed discussion show driven by fan-generated questions..." stop there, that's all I need to know. ESPN always tries these "fans have a voice" type of shows, and while some work (SportsNation), some end up being a muddled mess (everything else). We'll find out tonight, as the show starts at 7 p.m. ET. It features Jerry Rice and Steve Young, plus Keyshawn Johnson, Herm Edwards, Trent Dilfer and others will pop in.

Oh, the show has no formal host. Repeat: The show has no formal host.

"Fans control the content by submitting questions and conversation topics on ESPN’s Facebook and Twitter pages for the analysts to discuss and debate."

If this doesn't fail within three weeks, I will write a formal letter of apology to the executive who thought this was a good idea. If, no, when it does fail and Young or another ESPN personality is installed as the formal host, I hope that executive writes us an apology for thinking such a terrible idea will work. (UPDATE: I've been told that this show has been around since last season and is getting put into the rotation more consistently. So maybe I already owe someone that apology.)

That, plus a lot of Spanish-language and international rights, is what $1.8 billion per year gets you for the next eight years. Some of it is smart and interesting. Some of it feels like the same old ESPN.

And just for the heck of it, let's guess how many of these eight years Jon Gruden will see in the Monday Night booth. I'll set the early line at two.


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