Ed Driscoll

Big Changes Coming To TV's NFL Coverage

I haven’t football-blogged in a while, but there’s a story via AP about big changes in TV’s NFL coverage, starting in 2006:

“Monday Night Football,” a television institution that over 35 years has helped transform the NFL into a prime-time ratings draw, is leaving ABC and moving to ESPN beginning with the 2006 season.

The new broadcast deal also brings the NFL to NBC for the first time in six years. The network gets the Sunday night package which the league now considers its marquee television showcase and will employ a flexible scheduling model.

“In the current media environment, Sunday is now the better night for our prime-time broadcast package,” commissioner Paul Tagliabue said Monday.

The move to ESPN, which currently broadcasts Sunday night games, keeps the Monday Night Football brand within the umbrella of The Disney Company. Disney owns both ESPN and ABC.

After the coming season, ABC, which reshaped sports broadcasting by turning the NFL into a prime-time ratings draw, will be the only major network not to carry it. “Monday Night Football” has been a pillar of ABC since it began in 1970, when Howard Cosell anchored the show that now stands as the second-longest running prime time network series, trailing CBS’s 60 Minutes by two years.

NBC will start its Sunday broadcasts with a pregame show at 7 p.m. eastern; games will begin at 8:15. The network plans to use a flexible scheduling model that in the last seven weeks, allowing it to shift afternoon games to prime time to ensure more meaningful games are shown on national TV.

The Monday night move to basic cable, which includes an earlier start time of 8:40 p.m., is expected to cost ESPN which previously broadcast Sunday night games $1.1 billion a year over eight years, two sources familiar with the deals told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

“The earlier kickoff times for both packages, NBC’s Sunday night programming devoted to the NFL and flexible scheduling for Sunday night are all positive changes,” Tagliabue said.

NBC will get the Sunday night package for $600 million a year over six years, according to the sources. The network will also get the Super Bowl in 2009 and 2012 as part of the deal.

In other NFL news, former New Orleans Saints and Carolina Panthers linebacking great Sam Mills passed away from cancer at age 45. Courageously, Mills spent much of the past two years simultaneously coaching linebackers at the Panthers while battling the disease.