New NFL TV Contract Gives ESPN the Right to ‘Flex’ Monday Night Football Games
Thursday afternoon, the NFL announced a wide-ranging television contract that will now includes games on all four major U.S. television networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX), plus ESPN, Amazon and NFL Network.
The new contracts start in the 2023 season and will continue through 2033, but certain provisions for the ESPN/ABC contract, and the Amazon Prime Video contract, start as soon as the current 2021 season.
The biggest change for ESPN's "Monday Night Football" will be the addition of "flex scheduling". Starting in Week 12 of the 2021 season, ESPN will be allowed to move a select number of games from Sunday to Monday Night Football over the last six (or seven) weeks of the season. "Flex scheduling" was first introduced for Sunday Night Football in 2006.
ESPN also says their revised ESPN/ABC NFL package includes:
"ABC picks up two Super Bowls during the deal -- the first in 2026 -- with the other networks (CBS, NBC, & FOX) airing three each.
ESPN's package adds six games to the network during the season. There will be three Monday night doubleheaders -- with games on ESPN, followed by a game on ABC. There will also be a Saturday doubleheader during the season's final weekend and one Sunday morning game streaming nationally on ESPN+.
ESPN, which has previously aired a wild-card playoff game, will add one game in the divisional round as well."
Also, starting with the 2021 season, Amazon Prime Video becomes the NFL's exclusive home for Thursday night games, excluding the Thanksgiving Day games and the season opener in Week 1. Just like with "Monday Night Football", Amazon's Thursday night games will also be simulcast on over-the-air channels in the competing teams' home markets.
NFL.com notes that NFL Network will air select games during each season, and those games will continue to be simulcast on over-the-air channels in the competing teams' home markets. Also, CBS will retain the AFC games package and FOX retains the NFC games package.
Another major provision that may be added for the 2021 NFL season is the 17th game. NFL owners later this month could vote to add the 17th game, to all 32 teams' schedules, which adds a total of 16 additional games to the NFL's TV inventory.
If approved, the 17 regular season games would be played over an 18 week period, starting the Thursday after Labor Day, with each team receiving one bye week.
Finally, WFAN in New York reported that Sunday Ticket will be leaving DirecTV and moving to ESPN+. The NFL's announcement on Thursday did not mention the fate of Sunday Ticket.
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