Remember when ABC’s Monday Night Football was an EVENT? When you built your day around meeting the gang for happy hour and variously watching Howard Cosell, Don Meredith, Frank Gifford, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Dierdorf, even O.J., pontificate on the floodlit vicissitudes of the game with palpable electricity in the air while you sucked down shooters with every score and ended up getting a ride home from the cocktail waitress because you “lost your keys”?
Me neither, for obvious reasons, but I am assured such things happened nonetheless and I have the memory loss to prove it.
Now, after 36 seasons, Monday Night Football will move from Walt Disney Co.’s ABC to its sports cable network ESPN in an eight-year deal reportedly worth nearly $9 billion starting in ’06.
NBC announced it had reached a separate six-season deal to acquire Sunday NFL games, until now aired on ESPN, for $600 million a year. The NBC package will also include two playoff games and three prime-time preseason games each year, as well as the 2009 and 2012 Super Bowl championship contests.
After all this time, Monday Night Football still ranks ninth in household ratings among all prime-time programs for the 2004-05 TV season, drawing 16.3 million viewers, but advertising revenues have never covered the show’s costs. ABC has been reportedly losing roughly $150 million a year on the series.
George Bodenheimer, president of ESPN Inc. and ABC Sports, said “It’s tough for ABC to say goodbye to a landmark institution like this, but with the progress we’re making on our entertainment programing, we’re not looking back. It’s been a wonderful 36-year run.”
The line between broadcast TV and basic cable blurs further and nothing remains sacred.