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ESPN/ABC parent Disney and NBC Universal parent Comcast are in a “billion dollar battle” for the rights to NFL Sunday Night Football, Andrew Marchand reports in the NY Post. It is just the latest battle in a war between two heavyweight media businesses that has now raged for 16 years.
The reason that Disney/ESPN/ABC would want Sunday Night Football versus their current package is obvious: it attracts better games and more viewers. Currently, ESPN pays more than twice as much for annual NFL rights as NBC — $1.9 billion to $950 million. ESPN also gets wall-to-wall highlight rights for their daytime studio shows and monetizes the package through high cable and satellite carriage fees, but subscribers have been dwindling for a decade, especially the past five years.
Though he says a change can’t be ruled out, Marchand expects CBS and FOX to keep their Sunday afternoon packages. However, he also expects movement with Sunday Night Football (currently on NBC), Monday Night Football (currently on ESPN), and Thursday Night Football (currently on FOX and NFL Network). Disney wants two of those three packages and to be included with NBC, FOX, and CBS in the Super Bowl rotation.
We’ll see where this merry-go-round lands, but the sure bet is that the NFL will make major bank on these deals. The NFL’s scale of TV viewership is leaps and bounds ahead of all other programming, including other sports. All of the league’s broadcast partners will face escalating fees or risk losing it and quite possibly becoming irrelevant.
An interesting subplot in this battle for Sunday Night Football is that Disney and Comcast have been battling each other for over 15 years. It began in 2004 when Comcast made an unsolicited offer of $54 billion to take over Disney. The fight lasted three months before Comcast gave up.
The battle reignited in 2018 when the two companies got into a bidding war over the entertainment assets of 21st Century Fox. Disney wound up winning the sweepstakes for the movie studio (which included franchises like X-Men and Avatar) with a $71 billion bid. Comcast ultimately won the bid for the British broadcaster Sky for $39 billion.
Stay tuned for what happens next.