ESPN Re-Ups Monday Night Football Pact Through 2021

$15.5 billion pact includes wealth of digital extensions

ESPN has renewed its Monday Night Football contract.

After months of speculation, ESPN and the NFL on Wednesday announced they have reached an agreement to extend Bristol’s Monday Night Football rights package through 2021. While terms were not disclosed, the eight-year pact is believed to be worth $15.5 billion, or around $1.95 billion per year.

ESPN’s current deal with the NFL was set to expire at the end of the 2013 campaign, although at no point was it suggested that the league would look elsewhere for an MNF partner. The present media rights contract is worth $1.1 billion; as such, ESPN effectively doubled down on its investment in pro football.

The new deal does not include playoff games, although a source said a flexible clause in the contract could allow ESPN to carry a wild card match-up at some unspecified point in the future. If nothing else, the extension all but guarantees that the Super Bowl will continue to air on broadcast television through the start of the next decade.

Under terms of the extension, ESPN will be rewarded additional broadband rights for its and ESPN mobile platforms, as well as increased international rights. The network will also be given free rein to stream MNF and all NFL studio programming via its WatchESPN app.

MNF launched on ABC in 1970, and jumped to cable in 2006. ESPN’s 2010 MNF campaign posted record deliveries, averaging 14.7 million total viewers over the course of 17 games. Nine of last season’s MNF broadcasts delivered in excess of 15 million viewers, according to Nielsen live-plus-same-day ratings data.

Its current rights deal gives ESPN’s MNF the lightest spot load of all NFL broadcasts, with ad sales adding up to around $175 million. The extension should allow ESPN more time to sell to advertisers, although the increase has not been quantified.

Last season, a 30-second spot on Monday Night Football could run as high as $310,000. The going rate for NBC’s Sunday Night Football was around $415,000 a pop.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell on Wednesday confirmed that the league is discussing similar extensions with NBC, CBS and Fox. All three broadcast contracts run through 2013.

NBC’s Sunday Night Football deal is worth $603 million per year, on par with CBS’ national package ($619.8 million). Fox ponies up $257.1 million per season for its Sunday afternoon package. 

Given the size of ESPN’s investment, it’s unlikely that the cable network or corporate sibling ABC will bid on the rights to the new Thursday night package. Turner Sports, NBC Universal and Fox Sports’ FX are considered the three leading contenders for the eight-game bundle, which could fetch north of $600 million per year.

Bidding on the new package is expected to begin later this month.