Monday Night Football Switches to ESPN
The NFL’s “Monday Night Football,” a hallmark of television sports programming since the days of Howard Cosell, is leaving ABC after 35 years for ESPN starting with the 2006 season.
The NFL’s new broadcast deal also brings football back to NBC for the first time in six years. NBC will take over the Sunday night games previously broadcast on ESPN, and plans to use a flexible scheduling model that ensures meaningful games will played in that slot late in the season.
The Monday night move to basic cable, which includes an earlier start time of 8:40 p.m. eastern, is expected to cost ESPN $1.1 billion over eight years, two sources familiar with the deals told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
NBC will get the Sunday night package for $600 million over six years, according to the sources. The network will also get the Super Bowl in 2009 and 2012 as part of the deal, one of the sources said.
The NFL will continue to show all cable games on free, over-the air television in home markets. That means that local stations will carry ESPN’s Monday night games in the cities of the teams involved.
The moves leave ABC — which reshaped sports broadcasting by turning football into a prime-time ratings draw with the advent of “Monday Night Football” in 1970 — as the only major network without NFL football.
It always feels a bit odd to watch major sports events off the networks, despite the ubiquity of cable nowadays. Even TNT’s broadcast of the NBA All-Star Game, hardly an institution of MNF’s caliber, takes some adjustment. But, as long as the presentation is entertaining, I suppose it ultimately doesn’t matter where these shows are featured. It’s hard to imagine that ESPN wouldn’t get a big boost from this news, though — further solidifying its position atop the sports media elite.