The NFL further entrenched itself as the nation's most prosperous pro sports league when it announced late Monday that it had agreed to new television contracts with ESPN and NBC.
The deals, like the contract extensions that the league completed in November with Fox and CBS, will bring the NFL substantial increases over the rights fees that it is earning from its current TV deals. If the NFL secures between $200 million and $300 million annually from the package of Thursday night and Saturday night games that it still is shopping to networks, it will earn about $4 billion per season from its new TV contracts. That's a 43 percent increase over the approximately $2.8 billion that it is earning this season.
_____NFL's New TV Deals_____
ESPN (announced yesterday)
8 years, 2006-13
$1.1 billion per year
No Super Bowls
NBC (announced yesterday)
6 years, 2006-11
$600 million per year
Super Bowls in 2009 and 2012
Fox (announced Nov. 8)
Sunday afternoon NFC
6 years, 2006-11
$712.5 million per year
Super Bowls in 2008 and one other year during deal
CBS (announced Nov. 8)
Sunday afternoon AFC
6 years, 2006-11
$622.5 million per year
Super Bowls in 2007 and one other year during deal
DirecTV (announced Nov. 8)
Sunday Ticket satellite
5 years, 2006-10
$700 million per year
No Super Bowls
The NFL launched its latest round of TV negotiations with industry analysts saying that networks couldn't afford another round of substantial increases in rights fees. But this is the NFL, and it found a way to not only make the networks believe they could afford it, but also to convince the networks that they simply HAD to have the product that the league has to offer.
Fox increased its annual rights fee for the NFC Sunday afternoon package from $550 million to $712.5 million. CBS upped its rights fee for Sunday afternoon AFC games from $500 million to $622.5 million per year. Those six-year contract extensions run through the 2011 season.
DirecTV extended its contract with the NFL for its Sunday Ticket satellite package for five years, through the 2010 season, in November, agreeing to increase its annual rights fee from $400 million to $700 million.
In the deals announced Monday, ESPN takes over Monday night games from ABC beginning in 2006. ESPN agreed to pay $1.1 billion per season in the eight-year contract, double the $550 million that ABC was paying.
NBC gets the Sunday night package now possessed by ESPN and, in a six-year contract beginning in 2006, agreed to pay the same $600 million per season that ESPN currently is paying.
Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, the chairman of the NFL's broadcasting committee that negotiated the contracts, said by telephone late Monday that the league would continue to negotiate with networks for Thursday night and Saturday night games but probably would not complete deals in the near future.
The owners were gathering Monday in Atlanta, where they're scheduled to meet today. Commissioner Paul Tagliabue had told associates recently that he'd hoped to have the TV deals for the Sunday night and Monday night packages completed by today's meeting, and he pulled it off.
The negotiations moved slowly until the Walt Disney Co., which owns ABC and ESPN, recently named Robert Iger to replace Michael Eisner as its chief executive officer, effective Sept. 30. That enabled Disney to make some decisions about the NFL and its TV networks.
Bowlen said the league's negotiators informed Disney that they intended to put the over-the-air package on Sunday night instead of Monday night in an attempt to bolster ratings that had been sagging on Monday nights. Members of the broadcasting committee believed that Sunday nights would work better for over-the-air games because most viewers already are in their homes at kickoff time, Bowlen said, not at work or commuting, as many are on Monday evenings.
ESPN, as had been widely anticipated for months, grabbed the Monday night package. But ABC wasn't willing to pay the rights fee that the NFL was seeking for the Sunday night package -- in part because of the success of its "Desperate Housewives" program on Sunday nights, Bowlen said -- and NBC jumped back into the NFL mix. . . .
The next major order of business for Tagliabue will be to complete the extension of the sport's labor agreement that the league is negotiating with the players' union. NFL Players Association chief Gene Upshaw said in a telephone interview Monday evening he's now certain that the deal will be completed, although he's not sure when. The TV networks would not have agreed to new contracts if they hadn't been assured that the NFL's labor peace will continue, Upshaw said.
One person familiar with the negotiations said later Monday night that Tagliabue still has to perform some arm-twisting on some of the owners of wealthy franchises who are resisting a labor deal because the current proposals would result in them sharing more of their local revenues with less prosperous teams.
"If [Tagliabue] had his way, the deal would fall into place soon," the source said. "But he still has some work to do with the owners."
49ers, Condon Negotiating
The San Francisco 49ers apparently have made their choice and would like to use the top overall selection in the draft Saturday on Utah quarterback Alex Smith. But they first want to complete a contract with Smith's agent, Tom Condon.
That's not a lock, and the 49ers will have to reassess the situation by late in the week if they haven't completed a deal with Condon. They could draft Smith without a contract in place. Or they could strike a deal with Aaron Rodgers and use the pick on the Cal quarterback. Club officials have had preliminary contract talks with Rodgers's agent, Michael Sullivan, and it appears that the team could finish a contract with Rodgers easier than with Smith. Meantime, the 49ers probably would remain receptive to any trade offers for the pick. Club officials say they have not officially ruled out choosing Rodgers or even Michigan wide receiver Braylon Edwards.
Panthers, Jones Agree
Carolina reached a contract agreement with tight end Freddie Jones, an unrestricted free agent formerly with Arizona. Jones, 30, has averaged 51 catches per year in eight seasons with San Diego and Arizona. . . .
New England signed linebacker Wesly Mallard, who became an unrestricted free agent last month when the New York Giants declined to tender him a contract in restricted free agency. . . . New Orleans signed cornerback Jimmy Williams, formerly of the 49ers. . . . Chicago released guard Rex Tucker. . . . Wide receiver Reggie Swinton, an unrestricted free agent formerly with Detroit, agreed to a contract with Houston. . . . Wideout David Givens re-signed with New England, accepting the one-year, $1.43 million contract that the Patriots tendered him as a restricted free agent.