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.
Home of the NFL DraftESPN 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.
NFL Studio Programming SolidifiedESPN debuts its weekly NFL Sunday pregame show, originally titled NFL GameDay. This would become Sunday NFL Countdown.
ESPN Secures its First NFL AgreementThe 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 DolphinsThe August 16th preseason game is ESPN’s first NFL telecast.
NFL PrimeTime Begins Legendary RunAs 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+.
Pro Bowl airs for first time on ESPN following 1987 seasonESPN 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.
ESPN Reaches Second Deal with NFLESPN’s second rights agreement continues the network’s 13-game slate, including preseason, and studio programming. Most regular season games aired on Sunday nights.
ESPN Recognized Among Industry’s BestESPN wins its first Sports Emmy for NFL game coverage.
Sunday Night FootballESPN’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.
Sunday Night Football EnhancedAs 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 telecastESPN 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.
First NFL Kickoff GameESPN 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.
ESPN televises the NFL’s first regular season game in Mexico CityESPN and ESPN Deportes air first NFL regular-season game outside the United States between Cardinals and 49ers in Mexico City.
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.