Mending ESPN's rocky relationship with NFL is top priority for new network boss: report

(Image: ESPN)

New ESPN boss James Pitaro will have a lot on his plate when he takes over Disney’s massive sports network, but reports suggest smoothing things over with the NFL will be job number one.

According to Sports Business Daily, mending the ESPN-NFL relationship is a top priority for Pitaro and he has already met with NFL executives. This comes after George Bodenheimer, who was leading the network in the interim, reportedly said he’d never seen things turn so “sour” between ESPN and the NFL.

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The latest beef between ESPN and the NFL is tied to the league’s recent deal with Fox for Thursday Night Football. ESPN executives are reportedly miffed that the NFL is working with Fox on NFL Draft coverage after ESPN had worked for decades to raise the profile of the annual event. ESPN is also mad that the NFL might take away its Wild Card round playoff game, which ESPN receives as part of its $1.9 billion per year Monday Night Football agreement.

According to the report, the NFL and ESPN have often had differences of opinion over programming surround the NFL but that ESPN was often able to smooth over those tiffs. But in recent years, former ESPN President John Skipper (who suddenly resigned late last year) had been unwilling to meet with top NFL officials like Commissioner Roger Goodell. Reportedly, during that period of time, issues between the NFL and ESPN “festered.”

Pitaro, who is also overseeing the launch of ESPN’s new subscription streaming service while dealing with declining subscribers and rising rights fees, will have his work cut out for him in patching things up with the NFL. ESPN’s Monday Night Football rights expire in 2021, at which point ESPN may face new competition for the rights from digital giants like Amazon and Facebook.