Forward Rush: ESPN Buys Arena Football League
Starting in 2007 and for the next five years, the indoor football league will begin to air a minimum of 26 games per season on ESPN 2. Sister network ABC will air two games, including the season-opener and the championship game.
Most recently, Arena Football had been on Versus (formerly OLN) this past season. Before that, NBC--the network that won the rights for this year's NFL "Sunday Night Football" package--had Arena for a few seasons, starting in 2003. Arena Football earned weak ratings for most of its run on NBC.
As part of the deal, ESPN will get to control the in-game ad inventory, as well as secure other digital rights of Arena Football. It will give ESPN some additional spring programming to complement its NBA and Major League Baseball programming packages.
ESPN and ABC had aired Arena Football League on and off in previous years, starting in 1987. That's shortly after ESPN got its first contract with the NFL to air its Sunday night game package. ESPN last aired Arena Football back in 2002.
It's not uncommon for TV networks to own their own sports leagues and competitions. For more than 10 years now, ESPN has aired and own the X-Games, a wildly successful action-sports competition. Another action-sports event, the Dew Action Sports Tour, which debuted in June 2005, is partially owned by NBC Universal.
ESPN is in the first year of a multi-year deal with NFL for the highly prized "Monday Night Football" package.
Arena is still negotiating for an additional package with the NFL Network.