NEW YORK -- The NFL's "Monday Night Football," a hallmark of television sports programming since the days of Howard Cosell, is leaving ABC after 35 years for ESPN starting with the 2006 season.
The NFL's new broadcast deal also brings football back to NBC for the first time in six years. NBC will take over the Sunday night games previously broadcast on ESPN, and plans to use a flexible scheduling model that ensures meaningful games will played in that slot late in the season.
The Monday night move to basic cable, which includes an earlier start time of 8:40 p.m. eastern, is expected to cost ESPN $1.1 billion over eight years, two sources familiar with the deals told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
NBC will get the Sunday night package for $600 million over six years, according to the sources. The network will also get the Super Bowl in 2009 and 2012 as part of the deal, one of the sources said.
The NFL will continue to show all cable games on free, over-the air television in home markets. That means that local stations will carry ESPN's Monday night games in the cities of the teams involved.
The moves leave ABC -- which reshaped sports broadcasting by turning football into a prime-time ratings draw with the advent of "Monday Night Football" in 1970 -- as the only major network without NFL football.
ABC and ESPN are both subsidiaries of The Walt Disney Co. The deal with ESPN, which currently carries games every Sunday night and sometimes on Thursday, was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.
"A great deal with the NFL is the best deal you can get in television," said NBC sports chairman Dick Ebersol. He said the network hasn't started working on finding anchors for the Sunday night broadcast.
"We're celebrating for a day," Ebersol said. "Then I'm sure we'll get a lot of calls."
Last month, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue said during the NFL meetings in Hawaii that the Monday night move was a strong possibility. ABC, which has been losing money on the package despite high ratings, had been balking at the NFL's asking price.
NBC has been struggling in prime-time this season, and even risks an unprecedented fall into fourth place in the ratings. ABC's newfound ratings strength with "Desperate Housewives" on Sunday nights has been particularly damaging.
NBC will devote its entire Sunday night prime-time lineup to the NFL. The Sunday night games will start at 8:15 p.m. eastern and include flexible scheduling for the final seven weeks of the season, details of which will be developed by the league.
That issue has become more pressing since parity caused by the salary cap has resulted in teams moving up and down the standings annually, leaving bad teams that were strong the previous season in prime time and good teams that were bad the past season off of it.
CBS and Fox already have agreed to pay a total of $8 billion over six years for the rights to Sunday afternoon games.
The NFL is still considering an eight game late-season package of Thursday and Saturday night games on cable and satellite. Tagliabue has said the NFL's own new network could show some or all of those games.