College football, XFL, Australian Open headline ESPN slate
Three huge matchups to kick off the college football season, the XFL, a new Australian Open agreement and two new “30 for 30” documentaries were announced Tuesday by ESPN as part of its presentation to advertisers in New York.
The five-year agreement with the XFL concluded the presentation. It includes all 43 games (40 regular season and the playoffs) on ABC, ESPN and FX. XFL owners Dany Garcia and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson were in attendance and presented the news. The XFL is slated to kick off on Feb. 18, 2023, with eight teams playing 10 regular-season games and the playoffs.
ABC has a doubleheader on Sept. 3 to kick off the college football season. Georgia will face Oregon in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff game in Atlanta at 3:30 p.m. EDT. Besides the Bulldogs opening their national title defense, it marks the first game for Ducks coach Dan Lanning, Georgia’s defensive coordinator for the past two seasons.
New Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman makes his debut on the road against Ohio State at 7:30 p.m. The day will begin with ESPN’s “College GameDay” originating from Columbus, Ohio, for its first on-campus show of the season.
Former Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly gets ABC’s prime-time spotlight the following night when LSU takes on Florida State in New Orleans.
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Many thought ABC might have to give up the Notre Dame-Ohio State game as a way for Fox to let Joe Buck out of his contract early to join Troy Aikman in the “Monday Night Football” booth. But ESPN president of programming and original content Burke Magnus said that wasn’t considered.
“Fox has the No. 1 overall pick with the Big 10. That has historically and appropriately every year been Ohio State-Michigan. We knew that Notre Dame-Ohio State was going to come to us at No. 2, and then we weren’t going to let that go,” Magnus said. “That’s just an enormous matchup to kick off the season. Labor Day weekend has become such a franchise for us. It’s clear of NFL competition, and there are so many meaningful college football games played.”
ABC will have the Sept. 24 game between Wisconsin and Ohio State, Texas vs. Oklahoma in Dallas on Oct. 8, and Florida at Florida State on Nov. 25. The faceoff between Sunshine State rivals will take place on the day after Thanksgiving for the first time.
ESPN has renewed its deal for the Australian Open through 2031. It extended its deal with Wimbledon through 2035 last year and has the rights to the U.S. Open through 2025.
The nine-year agreement with Tennis Australia will include increasing hours on ESPN and ESPN2. Viewers complained about the decrease in coverage for this year’s tournament on the linear channels, especially during the overnight hours, which are the night matches in Australia. Those matches were on the ESPN+ streaming service.
“Frankly, we have the availability so we’re going to add back in some overnight coverage on the linear networks. I think that will even out the balance between linear and direct to consumer,” Magnus said. “There will still be hundreds of matches on ESPN+, but the mix between linear and digital will tilt back more in the direction of linear.”
ESPN+ will continue to have exclusive coverage of all matches not on ESPN or ESPN2, along with on-demand replays of completed matches and a daily highlights show. A one-hour highlights show will also air on ABC during the middle and final weekends of the tournament.
Among other ESPN announcements Tuesday:
ESPN Films will have two “30 for 30” documentaries sometime this year on pool great Jeanette Lee, nicknamed “The Black Widow,” and the 2000 Baltimore Ravens, who beat the New York Giants in Super Bowl 35.
The “Black Widow” documentary will be executive produced by ESPN Films in association with Words + Pictures with Ursula Liang (“9-Man,” “Down a Dark Stairwell”) directing and Cora Atkinson (“Summer of Soul”) as producer.
The Ravens film is in association with NFL Films, with Ken Rodgers and Jason Weber as co-directors.
Peyton’s Places on ESPN+ will expand with new shows hosted by Sue Bird (college basketball), John McEnroe (tennis) and P.K. Subban (hockey).
Manning’s production company, Omaha Productions, will have its first UFC Megacast on July 2 with UFC 276 from Las Vegas. It is headlined by the middleweight championship bout between titleholder Israel Adesanya and Jared Cannonier.
Peyton and Eli Manning hosted ESPN’s portion of the Disney Upfront, which also features the “Monday Night Football” crew of Buck, Aikman and Lisa Salters.
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