As the NFL works toward extending all TV deals for another 10 years, the network with which the league must do the most work is ESPN.
Disney, the parent company of ESPN and ABC, has balked at the NFL’s demands. According to John Ourand of Sports Business Journal, the NFL initially asked for $3.5 billion per year for Monday Night Football. That would represent a 75-percent increase over ESPN’s current annual average of $2 billion.
Per Ourand, ESPN offered $2.4 billion per year, a 20-percent bump over the current amount.
Common sense suggests that the two sides will meet in the middle, possibly at $2.95 billion per year. If, after all, ESPN put $2.4 billion on the table knowing that the NFL wanted $3.5 billion, it could easily be argued that ESPN knew or should have known that the two numbers would set up a final agreement at the midpoint.
But that’s hardly a hard-and-fast method for bridging a financial gap. ESPN may stop short of $2.95 billion, especially if no other network is ready to pilfer the rights to Monday nights. Then there’s the question of whether new Disney CEO Bob Chapek would walk away from NFL rights — and the question of whether Disney can make the NFL think that Chapek would.
It’s high-stakes poker, to be sure. The NFL always drives a hard bargain because it has a great product that gathers eyeballs like nothing else. And the NFL has always managed to have one other willing bidder to leverage all other networks to pay whatever the NFL wants.
Currently, which network would provide the NFL with the leverage needed to get ESPN to pay more than it’s willing to pay? If there isn’t one, ESPN could be in a position to get a deal closer to $2.4 billion than $3.5 billion.