April 07, 2020

Disney deal ends NBC run> CBS to return to air with NFL contests

NEW YORK – The Disney Co. completed a blockbuster $9.2 billion deal with the NFL on Tuesday, keeping “Monday Night Football” for ABC and winning the entire Sunday night cable package for ESPN.

The stunning deal leaves NBC and TNT out of the NFL for at least five years. NBC’s final game will be the Super Bowl on Jan. 25, ending 33 consecutive years of televising pro football.

Along with the contracts signed by CBS and Fox on Monday, the NFL will get $17.6 billion from the four networks over the next eight years, doubling its annual take from its previous deal.

ABC made the dramatic announcement on “World News Tonight,” when a correspondent said: “ABC gets Monday night, NBC gets nothing.”

ABC will pay $550 million a year, a 139 percent increase from the previous deal, while ESPN will pay $600 million, 135 percent more than ESPN and TNT paid, industry sources who requested anonymity told The Associated Press.

In an appeal to East Coast audiences, the start time for Monday night games may be moved to 8 p.m. ET.

On Monday, CBS agreed to pay $500 million a year in a $4 billion, eight-year deal for American Football Conference games on Sunday afternoons and Fox will pay $550 ($4.4 billion over eight years) for National Football Conference games on Sunday afternoons.

“NFL fans will continue to receive the broadest television coverage in sports, with all regular season and playoff games being carried on over-the-air television,” NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said.

While employees reported a tense and gloomy mood at NBC and ABC as they awaited their fate, there was nothing but good news at “Black Rock,” CBS’ headquarters. Even the guards wore hats bearing the slogan “NFL on CBS.”

“To know that we’re back in the NFL is a real relief,” said CBS Sports president Sean McManus, whose network fell to No. 3 after losing the NFL to Fox four years ago.

Officials at local CBS affiliate WABI (Channel 5) in Bangor were a bit more outwardly enthusiastic.

“Yippeee!,” said WABI program director Steve Hiltz. “We’re very, very excited. It’s been a long time for us without football. It enhances our station’s credibility dramatically. From an affiliate’s perspective, we have abolutely no complaints.”

The same can’t be said at Maine NBC affiliates WCSH (Ch. 6) in Portland and WLBZ (Ch. 2) in Bangor, although WCSH program director Mike Marshall was able to put a positive “spin” on it.

“I think my first spin on it is I’m very happy to know the NFL will continue to be on free, over-the-air television,” he said. “I think ultimately, it’s good for the viewers.

“For us, I can’t remember a time that NBC didn’t have the NFL and the NBA. That affects me a little bit. We’ve had it for so many years, I’m going to miss it, and it will seem kind of weird not having my Patriots on.”

This is the second big blow this month to NBC, which is losing “Seinfeld” at the end of the season and could lose “ER.”

But NBC should not experience the disastrous freefall that CBS experienced after losing the NFL in 1993. NBC still has a strong sports lineup, including the NBA, the Olympics, baseball, golf, and tennis.

“NBC is probably the strongest network and could probably survive the loss of the NFL better than any of its competitors,” said Neal Pilson, the former president of CBS Sports who runs a consulting firm.

Marshall also downplayed the impact of the loss of NFL games on WCSH and WLBZ.

“This is not a major revenue generator for us locally. It’s nice to have the Patriots and, yes, I’ll miss the NFL, but it’s not a big thing financially,” he explained.

The new agreements with ABC, CBS, ESPN, and Fox provides for rights fees at guaranteed levels through the 2005 season. While the contracts are firm for the first five years, the NFL can reopen the contracts before the 2003 season.

TNT has been showing NFL games on Sunday nights for the first half of the season since 1990.

“TNT is very strong and we’ve made substantial investments in programming, both entertainment and sports,” Turner Broadcasting System Inc. said in a statement. “In looking at the NFL numbers, we weren’t prepared to change our economic model for TNT or our affiliates.”

Turner balked when it was asked to pay $295 million to retain its half of the Sunday night package, a television industry source said on the condition he not be identified. TNT had paid $124 million a year in the previous deal.

Since losing the NFC to Fox in 1993, CBS has been plotting its return to the NFL. And it accomplished it in stunning fashion Monday. The final plans began to be put into place in December 1996, shortly after McManus became president of CBS Sports.

“It’s amazing. CBS played it real close to the vest,” said Hiltz. “We heard rumors, but we had just no idea. I thought they’d go after Monday night football.”

While CBS was interested in all three packages, the AFC was the most appealing, because it was undervalued in the last deal. More importantly, CBS owns seven stations in AFC markets, compared with three for NBC.

“We know better than anyone what it is like to have the NFL and what it is like not to have the NFL and it is a whole lot better to have it,” said Mel Karmazin, chief executive officer of the CBS Station Group. “We had a tremendous advantage over NBC because of the owned and operated stations. If there is equal value on the network, we get the advantage of having the four extra stations.”

“From our perspective, it simplifies what I’m going to do because for the last four years, I had to work hard to have shows I wouldn’t have to commit to for the entire year in those time slots, and those are hard to find,” said Hiltz.

CBS also was helped by the timing of the negotiations. The AFC package was the first to be negotiated, leaving NBC with an out if it lost.

“The structure was an advantage for us,” McManus said. “We heard that NBC had an interest in `Monday Night Football.’ We knew once the AFC was going first that NBC would either have to pass on our bid or pass on Monday night.”

CBS made its bid to the NFL for the AFC late last week, McManus said. Late Monday afternoon, NBC passed and CBS jumped at the opportunity.

With cable steadily eroding broadcasters’ audience, losing the NFL can devastate a network’s entire lineup by eliminating male viewers coveted by advertisers and leaving a huge hole for other programs that count on football’s lead-in. No one knows that better than CBS, which saw a decline in ratings, especially among men, and a loss in affiliates after losing the NFL in 1993.

Getting back in gives CBS a chance to promote shows across their lineup to the crucial young male audience. CBS missed billions of opportunities to attract NFL fans to other shows after losing out to Fox.

“Our audience is skewed older and our revenue per eyeballs is skewed lower than the other networks,” said Michael Jordan, chief executive officer of CBS Corp. “There is no reason why our audience is older. We believe the NFL will help us promote our prime-time shows to a different audience.”

NBC affiliates will also be looking to attract a different audience.

“We’ll have to find some other way of attracting the audience that isn’t interested in the NFL,” said Marshall. “For us, it means we’ll have more uninterrupted newscasts and that’s good for us.”

Fox will show three Super Bowls, including two in the first five years of its deal, starting with the game on Jan. 31, 1999, at Miami. CBS will show two Super Bowls. There also will be three additional 30-second commercials per game.

NEWS sportswriter Andrew Neff contributed to this report.

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