A Timeline of ESPN’s Long-Term Relationship and Past Rights Agreements with the National Football League

This afternoon, The Walt Disney Company announced a new, wide-ranging, long-term agreement with the National Football League. The landmark 10-year deal, beginning in 2023, grants extensive rights to ESPN and ABC, including Super Bowls and more postseason games, the extension of Monday Night Football rights, exclusive national ESPN+ content, and much more.

 

ESPN’s relationship with the NFL dates back to 1980 when the network televised the NFL Draft in its very first year of existence. The timeline below chronicles ESPN’s past NFL agreements and other key milestones in ESPN and ABC’s long history of presenting NFL games and events, which will now continue for many years to come.

1980

Home of the NFL Draft

ESPN televises the NFL Draft for the first time, an annual tradition that has continued now for more than 40 years and will continue under the newest Disney / ESPN – NFL rights agreement.

1985

NFL Studio Programming Solidified

ESPN debuts its weekly NFL Sunday pregame show, originally titled NFL GameDay. This would become Sunday NFL Countdown.

1987

ESPN Secures its First NFL Agreement

The first cable rights NFL deal in history, ESPN secures a 13-game slate (eight regular season games) starting that same year.

Chicago Bears at Miami Dolphins

The August 16th preseason game is ESPN’s first NFL telecast.

1987

NFL PrimeTime Begins Legendary Run

As part of new rights deal, NFL PrimeTime debuts. The beloved highlights show still holds the record as cable television’s highest-rated studio show. Today, the program is a key part of NFL offerings on ESPN+.

1988

Pro Bowl airs for first time on ESPN following 1987 season

ESPN and ABC have televised the Pro Bowl telecast a combined 26 times in the past 33 years. The annual game will continue within The Walt Disney Company portfolio with the new rights deal.

1990

ESPN Reaches Second Deal with NFL

ESPN’s second rights agreement continues the network’s 13-game slate, including preseason, and studio programming. Most regular season games aired on Sunday nights.

1990

ESPN Recognized Among Industry’s Best

ESPN wins its first Sports Emmy for NFL game coverage.

1994

Sunday Night Football

ESPN’s third rights agreement with the NFL solidifies Sunday Night Football as the centerpiece of ESPN’s portfolio with another nine-game regular season package. The agreement was announced in December of 1993.

1998

Sunday Night Football Enhanced

As the NFL’s exclusive cable provider, ESPN kicks off its new seven-year agreement with an 18-game full season Sunday Night Football slate.

ESPN debuts “First and 10” line on an NFL telecast

ESPN is the first network to debut the computer-generated yellow line at the point the offense must reach for a first down. Used during a Bengals – Ravens NFL telecast, the technology is widely praised and is now a staple on all NFL and college football telecasts.

2002

First NFL Kickoff Game

ESPN televises the first NFL kickoff game between the 49ers and New York Giants. The primetime season-opening game aired on ABC the next three years and remains one of the NFL’s signature games today.

2005

ESPN televises the NFL’s first regular season game in Mexico City

ESPN and ESPN Deportes air first NFL regular-season game outside the United States between Cardinals and 49ers in Mexico City.

2006

Super Bowl XL on ABC

The 2005 season concludes with Super Bowl XL in Detroit, ABC’s seventh and most recent Super Bowl telecast. With the merger of ABC and ESPN production teams, ESPN contributes to the Super Bowl telecast for the first time.

Monday Night Football Debuts on ESPN

After 36 years on ABC, Monday Night Football debuts on ESPN, continuing the legacy of sports television’s longest-running franchise, which began in 1970.

2014

Monday Night Football Continues

Under a new NFL rights agreement (announced in 2011), ESPN kicks off the first of eight seasons of Monday Night Football through 2021.

2015

ESPN airs first ever NFL Playoff Game

ESPN’s first NFL Playoff game pits the Cardinals against the Panthers in the NFC Wild Card round in January 2015.

2016

ESPN Deportes airs its first Super Bowl

ESPN Deportes televises the Spanish-language telecast of Super Bowl 50, the first of three Super Bowls to air on the network to date.

2020

ESPN and NFL collaborate on the first virtual NFL Draft

ESPN and the NFL collaborate on the first-ever virtual NFL Draft just a month into the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally planned for Las Vegas, the production originates from ESPN’s Bristol studios and is simulcast on NFL Network using commentators from both networks. ABC also offers its own distinct production of the event.

2021

ESPN expands its MegaCast franchise

ESPN expands its MegaCast franchise to the 2020 NFL Playoffs as the Ravens-Titans Wild Card Game is available on six different Walt Disney Company platforms.

The Future

2021 Season

Saturday Games Added

Regular season portfolio grows to 19 regular season games, consisting of 17 Monday Night Football games and Saturday games in the final week of the regular season. Both Saturday games will have playoff implications.

2022 Season

ESPN+ Exclusive Game Added

An ABC Monday Night Football game and ESPN+ exclusive matchup are added to regular season slate, resulting in 21 regular season games (17 ESPN MNF Games + the two previously mentioned Saturday games)

2023 Season

23 Regular Season Games + Divisional and Wild Card Playoff Games

First season under newest Disney / ESPN – NFL agreement, ESPN regular season slate increases to 23 games, a 35% increase from the 2020 regular season. Beginning this season and continuing through the agreement: 17 ESPN MNF, three ABC MNF, two Saturday games in final week of regular season, and an ESPN+ exclusive game. ESPN adds an annual Divisional Round Playoff Game along with its Wild Card Playoff Game.

2026 Season

Super Bowl LXI

ABC/ESPN presents Super Bowl LXI, the first Super Bowl under an ESPN-NFL rights agreement.

2030 Season

Super Bowl LXV

ABC/ESPN presents Super Bowl LXV.
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