ESPN in billion-dollar NFL TV battle for NBC’s ‘Sunday Night Football’

A billion-dollar battle for “Sunday Night Football” is emerging between incumbent NBC and Disney/ABC/ESPN as the NFL moves toward agreements on its new TV deals that could be completed by the end of the year, The Post has learned.

It has been known for a long time that Disney/ABC/ESPN would be very aggressive for more NFL, the most valuable programming in television. As far back as early 2019, there was buzz about ABC wanting a Super Bowl.

However, according to sources, it is more than that as the pitch Disney is making to the NFL is that it currently pays the most so it deserves the best prime-time regular-season schedule.

On top of that, according to officials familiar with the negotiations, Disney/ABC/ESPN wants to acquire two separate NFL packages.

At the moment, ESPN spends $2 billion per year for an inferior Monday Night schedule and no Super Bowls, while NBC writes a check for a mere $950 million for Sunday Night, which includes flexible scheduling that allows the NFL to shift better games into prime time, as well as a spot in the Super Bowl rotation.

NBC also has two playoff games per year compared to ESPN’s one. (NBC added another playoff game this year with the expanded format.) ABC currently has no regular package, but occasionally simulcasts ESPN’s productions.

ESPN’s extra cost does allow it to have almost wall-to-wall highlights on its network daily, which is something NBC, Fox and CBS don’t have. ESPN broadcasts the draft and the Pro Bowl.

If Disney were able to swipe “Sunday Night Football” from NBC, it would likely place it on ABC. In such a scenario, NBC would still be in play for Monday or Thursday night action. Both Disney and NBC could try for Fox and CBS’ Sunday afternoon packages.

Those could be safest with the NFL able to extract top dollar from Fox and CBS, while not messing with success of the setup of producing multiple games. Both networks currently pay more than a billion, but not near what ESPN pays.

Disney and NBC still can’t entirely be ruled out just yet for Sunday afternoons, but it seems less likely at the moment.

ESPN’s current “Monday Night Football” deal concludes after next season, while NBC, CBS and Fox’s NFL TV contracts will be completed following the 2022-23 Super Bowl.

The NFL likes NBC’s Sunday presentation featuring Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth. NBC has a succession plan that would put Mike Tirico in place of Michaels and, further down the road, the already-signed Drew Brees possibly checking in for Collinsworth.

ESPN has struggled to create a marquee booth with this year’s team being made up of Steve Levy, Louis Riddick and Brian Griese.

This is why ESPN had prepared a $14 million-per-year offer for Tony Romo, but was outbid by CBS, who went to $17.5 million per. An official with knowledge of the NFL’s thinking, though, said ultimately the broadcast crews will not be a large factor in the league’s TV decision.

Meanwhile, the two digital players that seem most likely to jump into the negotiations are Amazon and Apple. Amazon is already the digital home for Thursday nights, while Apple could try to help its Apple+ product. Both have extraordinarily deep pockets, though neither is expected to receive a marquee standalone package and may just be in line for digital rights.

MLB deal

In other rights deal news, it is increasingly likely that if ESPN re-ups with MLB. It will try to center a package around “Sunday Night Baseball,” the Home Run Derby and the first round of potential expanded playoffs, according to sources. This would mean the weekly Monday and Wednesday national games would likely be sacrificed. ESPN could potentially have more key late-season games in a new deal. ESPN’s current contract with MLB expires after next season. No deal is done yet, but the amount of games it airs could go down from around 100 to 75.

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