The NFL and ESPN are negotiating an extension of their rights deal that would significantly increase the network's payments and also could include new media rights.
Despite the impending expiration of the collective bargaining agreement with the players, the league already has contracts with its other broadcast partners that cover the 2011 season and beyond. ESPN is signed up through 2013, paying $1.1 billion a year for Monday night football and the NFL draft.
Last fall, the league extended ESPN's exclusive bargaining window, and an ESPN spokesman says, ''We continue to have conversations with the NFL and have not yet reached a new agreement.''
The CBA expires in March, yet the NFL already is set for broadcasting rights with ESPN, even without an extension that could bring the cable outlet's payments closer to $2 billion a year; with Fox, which does NFC games; with CBS, which has the AFC; and with NBC, which does Sunday night football. The league also has a deal with DirecTV through 2014 worth about $4 billion for the Sunday Ticket and Red Zone package.
Earlier this week, a special master began hearings on an NFLPA complaint that the league improperly renegotiated network TV contracts. Stephen Burbank is expected to rule on the issue this month, with both sides allowed to appeal.
The complaint alleges the NFL structured the contracts so it would be guaranteed money even if there were a lockout in 2011 - while not maximizing revenue from other seasons when the league would have to share that income with players. The union says that violates a 17-year-old agreement between the sides that stipulates the league must make good-faith efforts to maximize revenue for players.