ESPN Could Move MNF to ABC If There's Flex Scheduling

Ryan Glasspiegel
ABC's Monday Night Football
ABC's Monday Night Football / George Rose/Getty Images

An interesting report by John Ourand and Ben Fischer in Sports Business Journal today said that the NFL has begun to explore the possibility of flex scheduling for Monday Night Football in the next round of TV rights agreements, asking franchises for feedback of how much lead time they'd need to move games from Sunday to Monday.

It comes as no surprise that ESPN has been pushing for new parameters; we wrote a proposal for MNF flex scheduling last September with the idea in mind that they did not want to be stuck with late-season lemon games with no playoff implications. The SBJ story adds a wrinkle: "As an added enticement, ESPN has told the NFL that it would put Monday Night Football back on ABC if it ends up with the rights. "

MNF was on ABC from 1970 through 2005, and has been on ESPN since. A shift to putting it on broadcast TV on ABC would add over 30 million homes in distribution reach. It would be an interesting formula as far as how that would impact ESPN's subscription fees it receives from cable and satellite providers, and whether, as well as to what extent, that can be recouped in advertising to a greater reach plus retransmission fees (what broadcast networks charge distributors) and reverse retransmission fees (what the broadcast networks charge companies like Sinclair, Tegna, and Nextstar who own affiliates).

Perhaps ESPN could also pick up some games elsewhere on the NFL schedule, via acquisition of new and/or existing inventory.

Flex scheduling on MNF would also inherently weaken Sunday NFL packages by plucking games away from the windows that currently air on CBS and Fox. ESPN's MNF rights expire after the 2021 season, and the rest of the league's packages are up a year later.