NFL, ESPN Strike $15B Monday Night Football Deal

The National Football League and ESPN have agreed to a deal that will keep ``Monday Night Football'' on the cable sports network through 2021, extending the current contract by eight years, the two sides said Thursday.

Announced on the same day as the NFL was set to begin its 2011 season, the deal is worth $1.9 billion a year -- or about $15.2 billion over the life of the contract -- according to a source familiar with the negotiations. That is about 73 percent more than ESPN previously paid the NFL.

The deal will give ESPN 17 regular season NFL games along with rights to the Pro Bowl, NFL draft, 3-D distribution and Spanish language and international broadcasts. ESPN will also get rights to more than 500 hours of NFL-branded studio programming.

ESPN, a division of Walt Disney Co, has carried a full 17-game ``Monday Night Football'' schedule since 2006 and has become one of the network's -- and cable television's -- most valuable franchises. Last season, ``Monday Night Football'' was the highest-rated Monday program on broadcast and cable TV among young men.

The current deal, which paid the NFL about $1.1 billion a year, was to expire in 2013.

ESPN plans a number of new highlight and preview shows, and intends to develop their distribution on tablet devices such as the iPad, ESPN and ABC Sports President George Bodenheimer said on a conference call with reporters on Thursday.

``This agreement will fuel ESPN on a year-round basis because it touches all corners of our company and supports our best available screen strategy, with NFL content on TV, online and on mobile devices,'' Bodenheimer said.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said it was encouraging to have a long-term deal during difficult economic times and it was aided by the league's ability to reach a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement with its players in July.

``The long-term nature of this is the result not only of a successful partnership (with ESPN) but also the ability to reach a long-term agreement with our players,'' Goodell said. ''This will be beneficial to the players, our league and our fans.'' (Reporting by Paul Thomasch; Additional reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Maureen Bavdek)