The NFL reached six-year agreements totaling $8 billion yesterday with Fox and CBS to continue their packages of Sunday games through the 2011 season in a deal that paves the way for flexible scheduling of late-season games in prime-time network and cable packages that are still being negotiated.
The league also announced yesterday that it has extended its deal with DirectTV, the satellite service that provides the NFL Sunday ticket, a paid package that includes every Sunday game, through the 2010 season. That agreement will increase the NFL's satellite revenue from its current $400 million a year through 2005 to $700 million a year starting in the 2006 season.
Negotiations are ongoing between the league and Walt Disney Co. concerning ESPN's rights to Sunday night football and ABC's Monday night package. The exclusive negotiating period for ABC/ESPN extends for nearly another year.
The NFL also is expected to add a Thursday night/Saturday night prime-time package that likely would begin on Thanksgiving weekend 2006. The league's current network and cable packages expire after the 2005 season.
League and industry sources said yesterday that NBC, which gave up the NFL in 1998 because it was not prepared to risk significant losses, could be a contender for the Saturday-Thursday package. At a league meeting two weeks ago, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue indicated the possibility of that new package being aired on the league-owned NFL Network, which is available in about 23 million cable- and satellite-equipped homes.
An NBC spokesman declined to comment last night on NBC's interest in getting back into the NFL. NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, in China to continue preparations for the 2008 Olympics, through a spokesman described the Fox and CBS deals as "a great coup for the NFL."
League and industry sources said Fox will pay the NFL $4.3 billion to continue airing NFC games, or $712 million a season over its six-year deal. CBS will pay about $3.7 billion to continue as the carrier of AFC games, an average of $622 million a year. In the last eight-year contract, Fox averaged $550 million a season and CBS $500 million a year.
"This happened quickly and ahead of when we thought it would happen," said Leslie Moonves, chief operating officer of Viacom, CBS Sports' parent company. "We're thrilled with the deal we made. . . . We made money on the last deal, and we'll make even more on this deal."
Both networks will continue to air games Sunday afternoons at the same times as they do now, with a 1 p.m. start in the East, and a 4:15 p.m. kickoff for the second game of doubleheaders. Moonves also indicated that at a certain point over the length of the deal, his network will broadcast all games in the high-definition TV format.
Under terms of the new agreement, each network will get two Super Bowls over the six years. CBS will air XLI from Miami in February 2007 and Fox will follow the next year with XLII from Glendale, Ariz. Each will get one more to be determined later.
The flexible scheduling terms of the deal give the NFL the option to move seven late-season Sunday games to Monday night, according to a league source. Over the history of "Monday Night Football," ABC has often been forced to air meaningless games with no playoff ramifications late in the season, but the new agreement likely will end that possibility, while enhancing the dollar value of the Monday night franchise. In the last contract, ABC paid $550 million per year for Monday nights.
The NFL also has the option to develop late-season prime-time satellite or cable packages of eight games, which would be televised on Thursdays and Saturdays. The league also has the option of taking those eight games and airing them regionally in prime-time telecasts on Sundays and Mondays.
The NFL's television committee, chaired by Denver owner Pat Bowlen, met via conference call yesterday to approve the new network and DirectTV deals. Disney has said it would prefer to negotiate any NFL deal after the completion of the season, though the league has had what a spokesman described as "a number of discussions" with the company and that the NFL's "goal is to conclude these agreements at an early date."
The league also has been negotiating with the NFL Players Association on a possible extension of the collective bargaining agreement. Union Executive Director Gene Upshaw said two weeks ago he did not think an extension could be reached until all the television deals were in place.