Academic journal article The International Sports Law Journal

Sports Broadcasting Rights in the United States

Academic journal article The International Sports Law Journal

Sports Broadcasting Rights in the United States

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

In 2005, the National Football League (NFL) announced the largest sport broadcast agreement in television history. The deal, which involves all four of the major television networks in the United States, plus ESPN, a national cable sport network, increased the NFL's total broadcast revenue by more than 50 percent, going from $2.45 billion per season to $3.74 billion per season. (1) The NFL, however, is not the only professional sports league generating large sums of money for their broadcasting rights.

In 2006, Major League Baseball (MLB) signed a $3 billion deal with two television networks: TBS and Fox, which will run until the year 2013. Under the agreement, TBS will broadcast 26 regular season Sunday games and some postseason playoff games. Fox received the right to televise the World Series, MLB's All-Star game, a Saturday afternoon game of the week and one League Championship Series. In addition, MLB in 2005, entered into an agreement with ESPN worth about $2.4 billion over eight years for the rights to broadcast games on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday nights. ESPN also agreed to pay MLB an average of $11 million a year for radio broadcast rights and $ 30 million a year to televise games on new media such as cell phones and wireless devices. (2)

In 2002, the National Basketball League (NBA) sold its' broadcasting rights to three networks for $4.6 billion over six years. (3) The agreement, which averages $765 million a year, will allow ABC to show 15 Sunday afternoon games, as many as five playoff games and the entire NBA Finals in prime time. ESPN acquired the rights to broadcast games on Wednesday nights and a doubleheader on Fridays. ESPN also received the right to televise 22 games in the first round of the playoffs, as well as one of the conference finals. The third network, Turner Sports, acquired the right to show 52 regular season games, most of them as part of a Thursday night doubleheaders on its' TNT channel. Turner Sports also received the right to show 45 playoff games, the conference final not on ESPN and the all-star game. (4)

Even though television rating for the 2007 NBA Finals were the lowest ever, the league in June 2007 was close to signing a long term deal that would increase the revenue it annually received from television. In addition to broadcasting rights, however, the new deal would require the NBA to guarantee its' broadcast partners international and digital rights that will allow them to show game highlights via broadband, mobile and video on demand sources. (5)

Even the National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Soccer (MLS) have been able to cash in by selling their television rights. For example, in 2005, the NHL sold the cable television rights to its games to Outdoor Life Network (OLN). OLN, a cable sports channel owned by Comcast, the biggest cable provider in the United States with 24 million subscribers, changed its' name in September 25, 2006 to Versus. (6) Versus, which agreed to carry games on Monday and Tuesday nights, will pay the NHL over $69 million per season for three years. The NHL also has agreement with NBC, for seven regular season games and six Stanley Cup playoff games on Saturdays, whereby the league and the network will share all revenue, after NBC takes out the costs of production. (7)

In 2007, MLS sold its' broadcasting package for an estimated $20 million per year. (8) Under the deal, ESPN will pay $8 million to broadcast 25 regular season games, the All-Star Game in July and three playoff matches. In addition to ESPN, MLS also has contracts with Fox Soccer Channel and Fox Sports en Espanol for 28 Saturday broadcasts, with Spanish-language network Univision for 25 Sunday games and with HDNet. As a result of the contracts, 110 of the 195 regular season matches will now be on television. ABC, one of the four major networks in the United Sates and along with ESPN part of the Disney Corporation, will broadcast MLS Cup. …

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