ESPN and NFL close to $2 billion annual rights deal: report

DETROIT Thu Jan 6, 2011 4:25pm EST

Dallas Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh (43) makes an interception in the Philadelphia Eagles end zone as the Eagles receivers Riley Cooper (14) and Jason Avant (81) and Cowboys linebacker Bradie James (R) try for the ball during the second quarter of their NFL game in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, January 2, 2011. REUTERS/Tim Shaffer

Dallas Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh (43) makes an interception in the Philadelphia Eagles end zone as the Eagles receivers Riley Cooper (14) and Jason Avant (81) and Cowboys linebacker Bradie James (R) try for the ball during the second quarter of their NFL game in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, January 2, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Tim Shaffer

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DETROIT (Reuters) - Sports media company ESPN and the National Football League are close to finalizing a new media rights deal worth nearly $2 billion per year, Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Daily reported on Thursday.

ESPN, a unit of Walt Disney Co, has agreed to a 40 percent increase in the annual rights fee, meaning it will pay the NFL a record fee of $1.8 billion to $1.9 billion per year, the industry trade publication said, citing multiple anonymous sources.

"We continue to have conversations with the NFL and have not yet reached a new agreement," ESPN spokesman Mik Soltys said when asked about the report. The NFL declined to comment.

The deal still needs to be finalized and could take several weeks, but length and money have essentially been agreed upon, SportsBusiness Daily said. The pact will run nine or 10 years, which would take it to 2022-2023, the publication said.

Last year, the NFL extended rights deals with current network TV partners NBC, CBS and Fox through 2013. ESPN's current eight-year deal, which runs through the 2013-2014 NFL season, is worth $8.8 billion.

The NFL, with more than $8 billion in annual revenue, is negotiating with its players for a new labor contract. The current deal expires in March, and players are preparing for the owners to lock them out, which could result in the loss of the 2011-2012 season.

(Reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit, editing by Maureen Bavdek and John Wallace)

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