Monday Night Football on ESPN has been a staple of the NFL experience for some time now. Could that change in the near future? The network’s deal with the NFL runs only for three more seasons, and there is a sense of a strained relationship between the two, with others sure to bid on the programming.
That said, it’s still quite a long way out before anything is actually decided. As mentioned, ESPN still owns the rights to broadcast Monday Night Football for the next three seasons. But who’s to say that the relationship between the league and the network doesn’t sour even further over that duration?
According to John Ourand of Sports Business Journal in an article written earlier this month, there is animosity on both sides for a number of different reasons.
Most recently, the NFL’s decision to allow Fox to broadcast the NFL Draft this year was met with anger over as ESPN, which had been the primary party responsible for during the draft into the event that is has become over the course of the past few decades.
Ourand writes that there have even been talks of moving ESPN’s lone playoff game that they get to broadcast over to Fox as well. Fox, of course, recently was the winning bidder for the new broadcasting rights for Thursday Night Football, paying somewhere between $550-650 million per year.
ESPN pays $1.9 billion per year for its NFL programming, and it would be fair to say that the NFL has been devaluing that content in a number of ways, including oversaturating the market with games, in addition to the aforementioned actions. The league views the relationship between the two parties negatively as well.
“During Super Bowl week in Minneapolis, NFL executives privately described the relationship as the worst they’ve ever seen”, Ourand wrote. “In particular, they pointed to stories on ESPN.com and ‘Outside the Lines’ that they felt went out of their way to portray the NFL in a bad light”.
It’s true that it can be tricky for the NFL to have ESPN carry its games, given that the entire network is dedicated to sports coverage, which includes criticism of the NFL. Is it possible that the league is actually hoping to find a new broadcasting partner for Monday Night Football in the future?
A particular grievance on the network’s part has been a comparatively weak schedule of games, especially to Sunday Night Football, but even to Thursday Night Football as well, with the NFL viewing the cable channel as a lesser market. The network has in recent years stripped itself of rate provisions with cable and satellite providers that are tied to having the NFL. If they lost their NFL programming, formerly, they would get a lower fee, but no longer.
Still, despite both lingering and growing animosity, there is a sense that there is a desire to mend fences under new ESPN president Jimmy Pitaro. How the next couple of seasons go will be crucial to the future of the working relationship between these two parties.