ESPN snags minority stake in Arena Football League

The Associated Press is reporting that ESPN has acquired national TV rights to the Arena
Football League on Tuesday and also will have a minority stake in the
19-team indoor league. The network will have a regular Monday night slot in
which it will televise 14 games from March through June. The ArenaBowl
title game in New Orleans will be July 29 on ABC, which also will show
two regional season openers March 4 on Sunday afternoon.

In all, 26 games — 17 regular-season and nine
postseason — will be televised on ESPN/ABC outlets. ESPN also will
have extensive multimedia rights in the five-year deal that includes
everything from Internet to radio to publishing to international
distribution.

“This isn’t dating; this is getting married,” AFL commissioner David Baker said. “They are officially an AFL owner.

“It is good for our fans,” added Mr. Baker, who is 10
years on the job and has seen franchise values increase from $400,000
each to about $20 million. “We have extremely young demographics who
generally turn to [ESPN] as the first place to find sports information.”

NBC had a small equity stake in the league through a
contract that expired after the 2006 season, and the network chose not
to renew for the AFL’s 21st season. NBC is a unit of General Electric Co.