MSOs Await Bill as ESPN Grabs NFL


While ESPN was happily spending millions last week forcable rights to National Football League games, cable affiliates were waiting to see theirshare of the bill -- and wondering about the fallout on Capitol Hill.

The Walt Disney Co.'s highly profitable ESPN won thefull 18-game, Sunday night NFL cable package after agreeing to pay a whopping $600 millionper year for eight years. That's more than double the $255 million per year ESPN andTime Warner Inc.'s Turner Network Television had been paying the league to sharethose games over the last four years. In all, Disney paid $9.2 billion for the ESPN andABC packages that include Monday Night Football.

TNT dropped out early, balking at the inflation andrefusing to bid on the whole 18-game package. Had it won, TNT would have had to pass on'a quite extraordinary increase' to operators, TNT president Brad Siegel said.

'We were unwilling to get into a rate situation thatwould ultimately hurt our affiliates,' Siegal said.

As the top-rated basic cable network, TNT has lots of otherentertainment and sports to fall back on, such as the National Basketball Association, hesaid.

ESPN, however, contends the deal will be lucrative for thenetwork and for its affiliates, even though they'll have to pay 'a few centsmore' per subscriber as part of their affiliation deals, Steve Bornstein, presidentand CEO of ESPN and ABC Sports, told reporters.

ESPN plans to add advertising 'inventory' toaffiliates, during games and during related programs, such as a plannedfive-night-per-week recap show on ESPN2. George Bodenheimer, ESPN's executive vicepresident of sales and marketing, said ESPN has delivered 18-percent better ratings thanTNT, and that should improve under the new deal because consumers will always know whereto find the Sunday night game.