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ESPN Opens Up The Vault To The NFL — Again

Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson is one of the key negotiators for the NFL with the Players Union over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, and he is not optimistic about a quick settlement. Richardson complains that the players just want "more money and less work."

Meanwhile the NFL's television partners are begging the league to let them throw money -- lots of money -- at them.

ESPN is about to re-up for another decade of Monday Night Football for the price of more than $1.8 Billion a year.

For the their multi-billion dollar buy ABC/ESPN will be left out of the Super Bowl rotation, in fact they will not carry any NFL playoff games. ESPN will still get to carry the Draft, which the league had toyed with moving to its own cable network.

The dollar value and length of the contract have been agreed to, but the two sides are still negotiating over other media platforms. ESPN is pushing the "TV Everywhere," concept for all of its properties, but the NFL does not want to part with the broadband and mobile rights to its product. Last year, Verizon signed a four-year, $720 million sponsorship deal that includes the exclusive mobile rights to stream "Sunday Night Football" and NFL Network games, as well as the NFL RedZone channel.

ESPN is paying $1 Billion a year currently for the rights to MNF, easily the most of any of the NFL's TV partners. Fox pays $720 million a year, CBS $620 million, and NBC $603 million. DirecTV pays about $1 billion a year for exclusive access to Sunday Ticket.

ESPN is happy to pay, thanks to its dual revenue stream of monthly subscription fees and advertising dollars. The value of the contract is more than just monetary.

ESPN averaged over 14.6 million viewers for its 17 NFL telecasts this season.

ESPN continues to expand on its brand as the top cable network with the NFL telecasts. It's taken five years to help build up the cable audience, but now ten of the eleven (and fourteen of the sixteen) most-viewed programs in cable television history are Monday Night Football games on ESPN.

Every single week of the season, MNF helped ESPN to a primetime win among all broadcast and cable networks in the key adult and male demographics - men age 18-49, which allows ESPN to charge top dollar for their ads. It also gives them a captive audience to promote other programming as well as their media platforms.

NBC is thrilled with Sunday Night Football, another ratings winner.

NBC averaged over 21.8 million viewers for each of its 18 Sunday Night NFL telecasts.

Sunday Night Football is the top primetime program on television in viewership and all key adult and male demographics, and according to USA Today, this marks the "first time a sports series has ranked as the most-watched show" from the start of the TV season to the end of the NFL regular season.

While ESPN writes a Billion dollar check, the NFL negotiators claim that teams are working with a "negative cashflow" and need two extra games -- along with a bigger share of the revenue pie.

NFL Players Association president Kevin Mawae naturally enough is skeptical.

The owners want more money and more games," Mawae said. "The players want to play. The NFL is at its peak. This should not be that complicated."