Could 'Monday Night Football' Return To ABC?

Soon the NFL will start high-profile -- and to some -- tense negotiations for a new round of multi-year TV-media network deals. And there could be some major changes.

The NFL will no doubt seek another significant increase -- especially as its TV ratings per game has risen 5% each of the last two years. By way of comparison, just a handful of legacy TV network shows can tout any positive gains.

But legacy TV networks will want more, as well.

Walt Disney’s ESPN, which is in the midst of what some would call an expensive $1.9 billion per year “Monday Night Football” deal, will look to retain the big revenue producing package.

Disney may seek changes -- perhaps sharing/shifting the games -- to Disney’s broadcast network, ABC -- which initially had the famed NFL prime-time franchise between 1975 and 2001.

ABC has been at a disadvantage versus other competing broadcast networks -- NBC, Fox, or CBS -- which have either a prime-time and/or a Sunday afternoon package of games.



Reports suggest ESPN also wants flexibility around its “MNF” schedule -- to get better competitive games, especially late into the season. Additionally, it may want the flexibility to opt out of late-season games where losing-record teams have little to no chance of making the playoffs.

NBC has this arrangement for “Sunday Night Football” — the league can make team changes 12 days before kickoff.

Even without sharply increasing viewing -- or perhaps slight declines -- NFL’s 16.5 million per-game viewing average can boost a network’s promotion for its entertainment programs, especially when it come to major TV partners that share airing the biggest annual TV telecast of the year, the Super Bowl. (ESPN doesn’t get to air the Super Bowl.)

Little mystery now about the value of live sports, especially the NFL, for TV prime time. It’s of huge importance to a TV network’s overall viewership and advertising fortunes.

Though competition has been increasing in recent years, from big digital media players -- Amazon, Google and Facebook -- viewing has been small for those digital players airing regular season games.

Amazon has had the streaming rights to “Thursday Night Football” for three years; last season posting around 500,000 per game. Amazon shares “TNF” with Fox/The NFL Network, which have the traditional TV airings.

For the NFL, there continues to be an obvious supply-and-demand situation, which is why league is looking to push to a 17-game schedule up from the current 16-game schedule.

But there are risks.

Kannan Venkateshwar, media analyst of Barclays Capital, says: “While the NFL always has the option of licensing to new entrants at the expense of legacy broadcasters (like it did in the 1990s bringing in Fox), this strategy is not without risk, given that broadcast still has the largest simultaneous reach.”

He adds: “Media rights only account for roughly half of the NFL’s total revenues and therefore, maintaining the popularity and reach of these games is likely to be as important as the incremental dollars from the next round of negotiations.”

Who wants to play ball?

3 comments about "Could 'Monday Night Football' Return To ABC?".
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  1. Nick Romano from Romano Consulting, February 25, 2020 at 10:07 a.m.

    Can they please get rid of Booger McFarland. He's an awful analyst.

  2. David Scardino from TV & Film Content Development, February 25, 2020 at 2:34 p.m.

    Wayne, I think there might be a problem with "flexing" MNF games as the NFL does with Sunday night games. My understanding is that because a Monday night game gives the teams scheduled a short following week--and the Thursday Night games an even shorter interval from the previous game--no team will have to play a Monday (or Thursday) night game more than once a season in order to keep the competitive advantages and disadvantages equal.

  3. Ken Kurtz from creative license, March 2, 2020 at 4:26 p.m.

    Agreed on Booger, Nick. He comes in puffed up with bogus factoids that make no sense to the people in the market that live and breathe the team he swoops in on, and "claims" to know about.

    As for David's point about potential flex problems... possibly, but then, it wouldn't take much for a team in the thick of things late in the season to switch from a Sunday to Monday game with a two week lead time. Might be preferable for a couple of reasons, even if the team has already had a single Monday Night exposure earlier in the year.

    On potentially shifting MNF games to ABC, what's old might be new again. I will never forget hearing from Howard Cosell on a Monday night ABC broadcast on a cold December evening my junior year of college that John Lennon had been shot, and killed. Still brings tear to my eyes, just thinking about it.

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