The NFL on NBC, Day 2

With two days to absorb the news of NBC re-obtaining the rights to broadcast the NFL, writers across the country are now making their analyses of how the network returned to a relationship that lasted almost 40 years before the General Electric-owned entity dropped out in 1998.

It’s amazing how the NFL legitimizes or reinvigorates a sports division. When ESPN was brought into the NFL fold in 1987, it was known as a niche network that broadcast Australian Rules Football, Davis Cup Tennis, America’s Cup yacht racing, the NHL and College Basketball. After ESPN bought the rights for NFL games, Major League Baseball came a-calling and the network has grown into a virtual sports monopoly.

In 1994, Fox was a small network that wanted to make a huge splash. Despite some edgy programming that drew small numbers, owner Rupert Murdoch wanted to reach higher. The NFL brought more viewers and CBS was on the outside looking in.

During the period of 1994 – 1998, CBS was a falling rock. The sports division was in shambles, primetime programming fell to fourth place and the network was in a crossroads until 1998 when it obtained the rights to the AFC.

From 1998 until now, NBC was in a period of finding cheap and profitable sporting events to broadcast. NBC Universal Sports President Dick Ebersol was under an edict to make money as the NFL has been a loss leader for Fox and ABC. Here are examples of some of the events NBC has broadcast since losing MLB, the NBA and the NFL: The Olympics in 2000, 2002 and 2004, Notre Dame Football, the Triple Crown, the Breeders Cup, the XFL, Arena Football, Rodeo, the French Open and Wimbledon Tennis Tournaments, NASCAR, Figure Skating, AVP Volleyball and Lacrosse. But now, NBC has made it back into an arena where it has a long tradition. And by obtaining rights to the Super Bowl, the network has a vehicle to promote its programming.

USA Today’s Michael Hiestand is busy this week. His Wednesday column speculates on whom NBC would hire for the Sunday Night game and what role Bob Costas would play. He also discusses what direction ESPN might take now that it will have Monday Night Football in 2006.

Hiestand has a cover story today, but not on the NFL, but on ESPN College Gameday studio analyst Lee Corso. Dick Vitale has ESPN to thank for making him a star. The same goes for Corso to a lesser extent. Corso has made College Gameday very entertaining with co-analyst Kirk Herbstreit and host Chris Fowler.

Back to the NFL on NBC, Chicago Tribune media writer Teddy Greenstein has some background on how NBC returned to the table and he also has some tidbits on Scottie Pippen joining Comcast SportsNet for the playoffs.

Phil Rosenthal of the Tribune has his take on what the move of MNF to ESPN might mean for your cable bill. ESPN has said it won’t charge more per subscriber to the cable companies. Rosenthal speculates otherwise.

Dan Caesar of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch has his take on the changes in the NFL TV contract plus some more speculation on who will fill the broadcast booths for NBC and ESPN.

New York Newsday has a story from Steve Zipay about the possibility of Marv Albert coming back to NBC to do the NFL. Albert currently calls Monday Night Football for Westwood One radio.

David Hinckley of the New York Daily News laments the move of MNF to cable.

Andrew Marchand
of the New York Post is the only reporter I know of to write about Chris Berman being named as host of “Monday Night Countdown” which will be live from each MNF game site starting in 2006. Berman will replace Stuart Scott on Countdown which had been produced mainly at ESPN’s Bristol, CT studios.

Matthew Futterman of the Newark (NJ) Star-Ledger writes a story on how this move will affect could affect ABC.

Stuart Elliot
, the advertising beat writer for the New York Times, says NBC really couldn’t live without the NFL any longer and didn’t have a choice but to bid for the Sunday Night package. You can use bugmenot.com to sidestep registration.

We’ll see if tomorrow is any different in the amount of sports media stories focusing on the NFL primetime moves.

UPDATE – 11:15 a.m.

Mid-Atlantic Sports Network and DirecTV are about to strike a deal for carriage on the satellite TV provider. Some viewers may have noticed last night that a channel had been cleared for MASN, but there was no game for the Florida Marlins and Washington Nationals. MASN is the Regional Sports network that is operated by the Baltimore Orioles and will air National games. Currently, the channel doesn’t have an agreement with various cable companies in and around the DC area. Eric Fisher of the Washington Times has a story on the expected agreement.

If the agreement is struck sometime today, I’ll put it on the blog.