April 18, 2005

NFL To Return To NBC

'Monday Night Football' Moves To ESPN

NEW YORK -- "Monday Night Football" will leave ABC and move to ESPN starting with the 2006 season, ending a historic 35-year run on ABC that helped reshape sports broadcasting by transforming professional football into a prime-time ratings draw.

The "Monday Night Football" move from network TV to basic cable, hinted at continually by commissioner Paul Tagliabue, was confirmed Monday by two sources familiar with the deals who spoke to The Associated Press under condition of anonymity. The sources said the league is expected to get $1.1 billion over eight years from the network.

Also, NBC will return to the NFL after a six-year hiatus by getting the Sunday night package for $600 million over six years, according to the sources. The network will also get the Super Bowl in 2009 and 2012 as part of the deal, one of the sources said.

Randy Falco, President, NBC Universal Television Networks Group, said in a news release: "This will be a profitable agreement for us. We have said consistently since 1998 that we would love to be in business with the NFL, but only at the right price. Now the price is right. Bringing the power of the NFL back to NBC is great news for our viewers, our stations and our advertisers."

According to the news release, for each of the six seasons, NBC will kickoff the NFL regular season with a Thursday night primetime game. The first regular season game of the new agreement, NBC’s "NFL Kickoff 2006," will launch the 2006 NFL regular season on Thursday Sept. 7, 2006 in primetime.

Dick Ebersol, Chairman, NBC Universal Sports & Olympics, also said in the news release: "For decades, football fans and media have demanded the primetime package be made flexible so the best match-ups would be available to the largest audience in primetime. To their great credit, the NFL has responded with an innovative plan to meet that demand over the last seven weeks of each season of NBC’s 'Sunday Night Football.'

"The move from Monday to Sunday will not only mean schedule flexibility but also four hours of the NFL in primetime as opposed to just two. 'Sunday Night Football' will also have the added advantage of kicking off an hour earlier on television’s most watched night."

ESPN currently broadcasts Sunday night NFL games

The moves leave ABC -- which originated "Monday Night Football" in 1970 -- as the only major network without NFL football.

ABC and ESPN are both subsidiaries of the Walt Disney Co. The deal with ESPN was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Last month, Tagliabue said during the NFL meetings in Hawaii that the Monday night move was a strong possibility. ABC, which has been losing money on the package despite high ratings, had been balking at the NFL's asking price.

CBS and Fox already have agreed to pay a total of $8 billion over six years for the rights to Sunday afternoon games.

The NFL is still considering separate packages for Thursday and late-season Saturday nights.

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