While ESPN has bolstered its highlights and digital rights under its new eight-year, $15 billion extension with the NFL, the worldwide leader for now remains on the outside looking in when it comes to postseason game coverage.
There is a provision, however, that would enable ESPN to bring an NFL postseason game to viewers for the first time.
Speaking on the media conference call announcing the pact, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said the contract includes "a path" to a playoff game, but would not put a timeframe on when ESPN might enter the postseason. He did note that the league is committed to its current format through the 2013 season.
Past that, he said there were options whereby ESPN could gain an existing Wild Card game -- NBC currently airs a pair, CBS and Fox one apiece -- or score through an expanded playoff format. "Both remain options," said Goodell, adding "it is something we will consider with all of our broadcast partners."
The commissioner said the league is in renewal talks with its other TV carriers, but would not disclose the lengths or terms of those discussions.
Relative to the proposed expansion of the Thursday night package, Goodell said any action is "not likely in the next year." NFL Network currently airs eight primetime games during the second half of the season.
Goodell said there are discussions with current partners and potential ones about more Thursday night games, with evaluations taking place as part of the new labor agreement. The NFL Players Association has been adamant in its opposition to adding a pair of regular-season games, which could result in a pair of nine-game primetime packages.
NBC Sports Group's Versus and Turner Sports, whether for TruTV, TBS or TNT, are said to have interest in a Thursday-night slate.
George Bodenheimer, president, ESPN and ABC Sports and co-chairman, Disney Media Networks, on the call said that ESPN, which many believe might have to sit on the Thursday night sidelines in deference to its college football commitments, said the sports giant is always open to the opportunity of expanding and enhancing its relationship with the NFL.