ESPN Acquires Monday Night Football

Monday Night Football, the most successful series in sports television history, will move to ESPN under an eight-year agreement between ESPN and the National Football League, it was announced today by George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN and ABC Sports, and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue. The agreement begins with the 2006 season.

ESPN will televise Sunday Night Football, the highest-rated series on ad-supported cable television every year since its 1987 launch, during the 2005 season. Monday Night Football will conclude a 36-year run on ABC this December. Debuting in 1970, Monday Night Football has been a landmark series in the history of American television.

The new agreement calls for 17 regular-season Monday night games per season on ESPN — featuring a new 8:30 p.m. ET telecast time (8:40 p.m. kickoff) — plus four pre-season contests. It also includes rights across a wide variety of ESPN television and other assets, including the highly rated NFL PrimeTime program; the NFL Draft, which ESPN has covered since 1980; NFL Live; ESPN HD; ESPN Deportes; NFL Films programming; fantasy, ESPN Mobile, video game and data feed platforms, and more.

ESPN’s NFL game coverage has won the Sports Emmy as television’s best live sports series two of the last four years (for the 2000 and 2003 seasons), and is nominated again for the 2004 season.

“This agreement clearly underscores The Walt Disney Company’s leadership in the sports entertainment industry,” said Michael D. Eisner, Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company. “Sports television’s pre-eminent series – Monday Night Football – moves to the industry’s pre-eminent brand, ESPN.”

Robert A. Iger, The Walt Disney Company’s President and Chief Operating Officer, said, “Securing an American television institution well into the future will strengthen our core sports asset. Under the agreement, we will continue to see ESPN deliver strong profits and contribute to the growth of The Walt Disney Company.”

ESPN’s Emmy Award winning Sunday NFL Countdown pre-game show will return. Monday Night Countdown, an ESPN pre-game show chronicling Sunday’s action and previewing the Monday night game, will also return, and will be aired live from the site of each Monday night game beginning in 2006. Monday Night Countdown will be the centerpiece of a companywide effort to make Monday Night Football a “traveling road show” in each city it visits.

Said Bodenheimer: “We are thrilled to have the excitement and energy of Monday Night Football on ESPN and I am confident that we will continue the excellence that has been the hallmark of ABC’s coverage for the last 35 years. The tremendous success ESPN has had with Sunday Night Football will be enhanced with the Monday night tradition. We will bring all of our company’s leading sports assets to bear in extending the Monday Night Football brand.”

ESPN first televised Sunday primetime NFL games in 1987, covering the second half of the regular season (eight games annually 1987 – 89, nine games 1990 – 1997), and has carried a full slate of 18 games since 1998. NFL PrimeTime, the ultimate NFL highlights show, debuted in 1987. In 2004 ESPN enjoyed another outstanding NFL season:

  • Sunday Night Football averaged a 7.3 rating, and 6,538,000 homes, making it ad-supported cable’s highest-rated series for the 18th consecutive year (every year since its 1987 debut)
  • Eight of ad-supported cable’s biggest 10 audiences in 2004 were ESPN NFL games.
  • Sunday NFL Countdown was seen by more people than any season in nine years.
  • Monday Night Countdown enjoyed its most-viewed season.
  • NFL PrimeTime remained cable television’s most-watched sports studio show.
  • The NFL Draft was seen by seen by a record 31,402,000 people.

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