By Jarrett Bell, USA TODAY
KAPALUA, Hawaii — The NFL will reveal matchups Monday for the prime-time games that will christen the 2005 regular season, likely including a home-opening Thursday night game Sept. 8 for the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
Dallas owner Jerry Jones, a member of the NFL's broadcast committee, says ESPN's high Sunday ratings are noticed.
By L.M. Otero, AP
But the most anticipated news regarding the league's future on prime-time television — new agreements for Monday Night Football
and a Sunday night package beginning with the 2006 season — remains on hold apparently because of stalled negotiations.
Industry analysts have estimated the league might command about $1 billion a year for the Monday night slice of a new TV deal, but after a 36th season on ABC, league owners are bracing for a switch to ESPN that could push the Sunday night package to network TV. The league balks at the prospect of not having at least one of its prime-time packages on over-the-air networks.
"I think we'll come up with a way to maximize the interest for the viewers," Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a member of the league's broadcast committee, said Sunday as the league gathered for its annual meetings at a plush, secluded resort on Maui.
Although sentiment might exist within the league to keep Monday games on network TV, Jones said, "We know how successful ESPN has been with the Sunday games."
ABC has an exclusive negotiating period through the end of October to retain MNF,
but losses estimated at $150 million a year and the success of other shows fuels the notion of a switch to the Disney-owned cable network. New agreements with Fox, CBS and DirecTV are already in place for the Sunday afternoon games.
The Sunday afternoon and DirecTV price tag of $11.5 billion over six years equates to a 33% increase over the existing package, undoubtedly a factor in the negotiations for the prime-time packages.
"Our discussions to renew both Monday Night Football
and Sunday night football are ongoing," ABC Sports vice president Mark Mandel, en route to Maui, told USA TODAY from Los Angeles on Sunday.
Without a deal in place with either or both ESPN and ABC, it is doubtful that ABC would drop its exclusive negotiating rights.
"I know I wouldn't want to do that," said Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a broadcast committee member. A meeting scheduled for Thursday in Los Angeles between NFL and Disney officials was postponed. Kraft, though, is optimistic that negotiations will hit a fast track with Robert Iger being promoted last week to become Disney's CEO on Oct. 1. "That removes a lot of uncertainty," Kraft said.
On the other hand, many scenarios remain. Other networks, including NBC and Fox, which is planning to launch a national all-sports cable network, are apparently positioned to step in if talks with Disney don't produce new deals.
Perhaps that's why Jones suggests the prime-time issues might not be settled until the fall — after ABC's exclusive negotiating period expires.
Said Jones, "They've let the competition draw down and line up."
Contributing: Rudy Martzke