ESPN has struck a deal with the NFL to keep airing "Monday Night Football" through 2021, the network announced Thursday.
The new multiplatform agreement, beginning in 2014, includes eight full seasons of "Monday Night Football," expanded NFL studio programming starting this week, highlight rights for TV and ESPN.com, the Pro Bowl, the NFL Draft, 3D rights, and enhanced international rights.
"While this deal ostensibly begins in 2014, it benefits us right now," George Bodenheimer, President of ESPN, Inc. and ABC Sports and Co-Chairman of Disney Media Networks, said in a conference call. "This agreemnt will fuel ESPN on a year-round basis because it touches all corners of our company and supports our best available screen strategy with the NFL on TV, online and mobile."
Outside the U.S., ESPN will televise "MNF" and other regular season games, playoffs, and the Super Bowl in 30 million households in 144 countries. The deal also gives the NFL an option to air a postseason Wild Card playoff game on ESPN.
The deal is believed to be worth upwards of $15 billion, raising the annual rate from $1.1 billion in the last deal to $1.9 billion.
"Monday Night Football" debuted in 1970 and moved to ESPN in 2006 after a 36-year run on ABC. It was one of the biggest landmarks in the history of the network, and the deal means "MNF" will celebrate its 50th anniversary season on ESPN in 2020.
"Monday Night Football, as you know, is a top 10 TV property," Bodenheimer said. "It wins every Monday night in all the key male demos, in many nights in overall viewers."
In the past five seasons, "MNF" has become the most-watched series in cable television history, according to ESPN. In 2010, it ranked eighth among all primetime programs (broadcast or cable), averaging 14.7 million viewers. In addition, an estimated 140 million people viewed "MNF" and NFL studio programming on ESPN/ESPN2 over the course of the 2010 NFL season.
While "Monday Night Football" is the cornerstone of the deal, the agreement will also result in more than 500 new hours of NFL-branded studio programming each year. "Sunday NFL Countdown" pre-game show will expands to three hours, "NFL Live" will expands to one hour year-round, and ESPN will create more shows, including "NFL 32" and "NFL Kickoff," both debuting this week.
ESPN first televised Sunday primetime NFL games in 1987, covering the second half of the regular season. It expanded to a full slate of 18 games from 1998-2005.
The only thing missing from the deal is a real foothold for ESPN in NFL playoffs coverage, with the wild card option being the only one on the table. That is one subject neither Bodenheimer nor NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wanted to go into.
Instead, they both repeated the strength of the partnership between the ESPN and the NFL, insisting they would continue to find ways to work together.