It wasn’t that long ago that ESPN was paying more for its NFL media deal than any other broadcast rightsholder — but still being treated like the league’s little brother.
That all changed when the NFL signed its latest set of media contracts totalling more than $110 billion.
ESPN’s $2.7 billion annual fee is still higher than the NFL’s other broadcast partners, but the Disney-owned network is finally getting its fair share of the football pie. This year, ESPN and ABC will air 21 NFL games in primetime — a record for Disney and the second-most ever for a single company in one NFL season.
The rights fee isn’t the only big spending ESPN is doing, either. Between announcers Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, plus the “ManningCast” duo of Peyton and Eli, the network is reportedly paying around $50 million for its “Monday Night Football” broadcasters.
While the costs are enormous, ESPN is already seeing the benefits of being in the NFL’s good graces. Week 1’s New York Jets-Buffalo Bills telecast set an “MNF” record with 22.64 million viewers. Last season, “MNF” averaged 13.789 million viewers across 17 games, down 2% from 2021. At its most recent low point in 2017, it averaged less than 11 million viewers.
Monday night kicks off two straight weeks of “MNF” doubleheaders on ESPN and ABC. In another sign the ESPN-NFL relationship is thriving once again, “MNF” gets a Super Bowl LVII rematch between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles in Week 11 — a high-profile broadcast typically awarded to NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” or a premier Sunday late-afternoon slot on Fox or CBS.
With the NFL seemingly hotter than ever, ESPN has even held talks with the league — among others — about acquiring an equity stake in the network.