National Football League
Current Contract: $17.6 billion, from ABC, ESPN, CBS and Fox; Term: 1999-2006; Net Breakdown: ABC: $4.4 billion (“Monday Night Football”); CBS: $4.0 billion (AFC games), Fox: $4. 4 billion (NFC games); ESPN: $4.8 billion (“Sunday Night Football”); Prognostication: It gets high ratings but also costs a lot. The NFL shouldn’t expect to make this much money from the networks in the future due to diminishing ratings and increased off-net competition. Even so, it will remain primarily on network because of its strong appeal to the right demographic and the lure of the Super Bowl bonanza.
National Hockey League
Current Contract: $600 million from ABC and ESPN; Term: 1999-2004; Prognostication: There is no interest by major broadcasters, with rare exceptions. This sport will be seen on cable TV if at all. After Fox abandoned the NHL because of its poor showing, ABC took on the “fourth” major sport primarily to provide programming-including satellite programs that comment on the leagues-for ESPN. As long as the NHL demographic remains so attractive-over-40, male, upper-middle-class-ABC will remain.
Major League Baseball
Current Contract: $2.5 billion; Term: 2002-06; Net Breakdown: Fox: $2 billion for “Saturday Game of the Week,” share of playoffs, All-Star Game and World Series; ESPN: $500 million for weekly games, Sunday Night Game of the Week; Prognostication: Baseball does better as a regional TV attraction than nationally, which is a problem. In large markets it gets lots of revenue. Small markets pay much less. That leaves baseball in the most precarious position of all four majors. Diminishing national ratings and the abundance of games available off-net on regional cable stations such as YES, WGN and TBS make the MLB rights unattractive at the previous rate.
National Basketball Association
Current Contract: $4.6 billion from AOL Time Warner (TNT and TBS), ABC and ESPN; Term: 2002-08; Net Breakdown: AOL Time Warner: $2.2 billion for weekly games, playoffs and interactive content; ABC/ESPN: $2.4 billion for weekly games, playoffs and finals; Prognostication: Commissioner David Stern paints a pretty picture about the strength of his league, but the ratings from the NBA Finals were the lowest ever. After capturing America’s attention in the ’80s and ’90s, the NBA is now facing more difficult times. It remains very star-driven. That is why off-court problems for NBA stars, in particular the high-profile criminal case involving L.A. Laker Kobe Bryant, are also a problem for the league.