Skip to main content

The Big Bucks Behind The Big Leagues

National Football League

Despite declining ratings and estimated losses that could exceed a total of $2 billion on contracts now in their fourth years, ABC, CBS, FOX and ESPN continue coverage of the NFL until 2006. ABC brings Monday Night Football
with its $4.5 billion contract ($550 million/year), while ESPN has Sunday Night Football
in its package, worth nearly $4.8 billion ($600 million/year).

CBS has the American Football Conference for $4.1 billion ($500 million/year), and Fox has the National Football Conference for $4.4 billion ($550 million/year).

ABC had the highest average ratings in the 2002-03 season with an 11.4, which had fallen from 15.0 since the new contracts began in 1998. ESPN had the lowest average ratings with a 7.4 but registered the highest percentage increase of the four networks.

National Basketball Association

After seeing game ratings drop 37% over the life of its $1.6 billion, four-year deal, NBC opted to let go in 2002. ESPN picked up the rights for $2.4 billion for six years ($400 million/year) and buys time to air the games on broadcast sibling ABC.

TNT increased its smaller package of regular and post-season games—four-year, $840 million ($210 million/year)—to a six-year contract worth $2.2 billion ($366 million/year). TNT uses sister network TBS when it needs to air two games simultaneously.

The league's startup channel, NBA TV, carries an additional 96 games per season.

Major League Baseball

Fox's contract escalated to a $2.5 billion, six-year deal ($417 million/year) through 2006. That's nearly quadruple its old $575 million, five-year deal ($115 million/year) that ended in 2000. The new contract guarantees six World Series, as well as the All-Star Game, and the championship series, which will air on Fox Sports Net. Fox has taken a $225 million writeoff on the deal.

ESPN and ESPN2 renewed for an $851 million, six-year deal ($141 million/year) that includes an additional 18 games each season and 300 hours of programming that also airs on ESPN Classic and ESPN Radio. In buying Fox Family Channel, ABC inherited a six-year deal for $675 million to air regular and post-season games through 2006.

National Hockey League

ABC Sports and ESPN picked up where Fox left off in 1999, quadrupling that $155 million deal ($31 million/year) deal to a combined $600 million ($120 million/year) for five years through 2004. It breaks down to a $250 million/$350 million ABC/ESPN split with coverage of regular-season, playoff games and the Stanley Cup Finals. The league has its negotiating work cut out for it, with the contract up at the end of this season and the ratings down.

NCAA Sports

NCAA basketball and football packages are fragmented, with the league controlling rights to some post-season play but various athletic conferences selling regular-season games.

In 2002, CBS renewed its NCAA basketball contract for $6.2 billion total ($565 million/year) for 11 years through the 2013-14 academic year. It covers the Final Four, regular- and post-season games, and 83 Championships and includes all marketing, sponsorship, licensing, publishing and Internet rights for the sports under the agreement.

ESPN entered into an 11-year, $200 million contract through the 2012-13 academic year that includes 21 championship games. Among them: women's basketball championship, men's and women's College World Series, World Cup, and indoor track and field.

CBS re-signed with the Pac-10 until 2006. Along with ESPN, ABC also extended ACC and Big Ten Conference football coverage.

ABC Sports, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Regional Television and NBC Sports will air games for the Big Ten. Big East, Pac-10 basketball, and SEC basketball and football are on CBS.

Notre Dame

NBC is in the fifth year of a seven-year, $45 million ($6.43 million/year) contract to air six Notre Dame home games annually. Begun in 1991, the contract extends through 2005.

College Bowl Series
ABC renewed its Bowl Championship Series contract with a combined deal for the Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange Bowls that totals $500 million for seven years ($71.4 million/year). The addition of Miami and Virginia Tech to the ACC this year caused membership changes that allows ABC/ESPN to renegotiate its contract before 2005.

PGA Tour

The PGA is collecting a total of $850 million ($212.5 million/year), dividing match coverage among two cable and two broadcast networks.

Cable gets the early rounds on Thursdays and Fridays. USA covers 33 PGA events, including The Players Championship. In separate deals, The President's Cup and The Senior PGA Championship get early-round coverage as well on USA.

ESPN will offer early-round coverage of 36 events, including The Players Championship and The Tour Championship plus full, four-round coverage of 21 additional events.

ABC covers 18 events including three of the four World Gold Championship events and expanded coverage of The Tour Championship. CBS covers 17, including The Ford Senior Players Championship and The PGA Championship. NBC covers five events, including 18-hole coverage of The Players Championship and the 2004 and 2006 President's Cup.

Ryder Cup

USA covers early rounds and NBC late rounds of the PGA event for $52 million ($13 million/year) for six years through 2006.


Under a year-to-year agreement, USA covers early rounds for an undisclosed amount, and CBS pays an estimated worth $2 million to $3 million per year for final-round coverage. Because of protests over Augusta National's refusal to admit women to its club, the Masters aired commercial-free this year.


NBC continues full coverage of the U.S. Open, U.S. Women's Open, U.S. Senior Open, the U.S. Amateur Championships and other programming this year in a six-year deal worth $120 million ($20 million/year), an increase of $28 million to $48 million total over its previous four-year deal.

U.S. Open

USA covers the tennis event under a six-year, $125 million ($21 million/year) deal. CBS carries more than 60 hours of this tournament, including the semifinals and finals in a four-year deal worth $152 million ($38 million/year) through 2004.


NBC has a $52 million ($13 million/year) four-year deal through 2006 and continues to air the event with live coverage of the finals. The event airs at a premium price despite revenue losses because of business benefits to NBC's parent company GE. ESPN has a $24 million deal ($8 million a year) for three years through 2006.

French Open

ESPN carries the tennis event under a $1 million, one-year deal for. CBS carries the tournament's men's and women's singles and doubles as well as mixed doubles.

Australian Open

ESPN carries the tournament, which currently has no rights fees. CBS carries the tournament's men's and women's singles and doubles as well as mixed doubles.


NASCAR's eight-year deal splits the season in two. The first half goes to the News Corp. family, with Fox paying $1.6 billion ($200 million/year) through 2008. Of that, $444 million is allocated to FX, which carries the Daytona 500 and other races, and to Fox Sports and Speed.

The second half goes to NBC and TNT, which worked a six-year deal for $1.2 billion ($200 million/year) through 2006. NBC's share of the deal is a total $600 million. Both deals represent about four times what TNT was previously paying.


ABC renewed its deal in 1999 to air races and the celebrated Indianapolis 500 for five years through 2004 and a total of $65 million ($13 million/year).


CBS recently renewed a time-buy agreement with CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) to air seven races per year for two years through 2004. The races are priced separately, ranging from $235,000 to $550,000 for a total deal worth $1.6 billion to $3.8 billion. Fox produces the races for CBS, sells advertising for itself and CBS, and gives 70% of the broadcast net revenue to CART.


NBC's current contract for the Olympics, which totals $3.6 billion for the next three Games through 2008 (2004/$793 million, 2006/$613 million, 2008/$894 million) is bringing in a profit, and ratings continue to increase.

The contract for 2010 and 2012 is estimated at $2 billion in rights fees plus $200 million to parent company GE for wireless, hand-held and other emerging technologies. The games will also air on CNBC, MSNBC, Bravo and Telemundo.

Figure Skating

ABC renewed its contract to air the U.S. Championships, an event it has aired since 1964. The deal continues through 2007 and is worth a total $96 million ($12 million/year).

Triple Crown

NBC began broadcasting the Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont horse races in 2001 for a total of $51.5 million for five years ($10.3 million/year) through 2005. This is a 20% increase over ABC's annual payment and, with back-to-back Triple Crown possibilities, ratings jumped 40% in 2002 and 13% in 2003.


NBC airs the Breeder's Cup World Thoroughbred Championships in a five-hour telecast of eight races as a revenue-sharing deal. CBS airs National Thoroughbred Racing Association races without a rights fee.


This year, ABC and ESPN2 entered into a revenue-sharing arrangement with the WNBA for regular-season and playoff games through 2008. ESPN2 will show the All-Star Game and Draft as well as games purchased from Lifetime. Oxygen also carries one game per week.

Arena Football

NBC airs the regular season, playoffs and Arena Bowl for two years with the option to renew in perpetuity through a revenue-sharing agreement with the league.