Was Al Michaels Traded From ABC to NBC For, Among Other Things, a Cartoon Character?

SPORTS LEGEND: Al Michaels was traded from ABC to NBC in exchange for, among other things, the rights to a cartoon character.

Reader Jesse wrote in to suggest that I feature this one, specifically that the specifics of the Al Michaels ABC to NBC deal might not be known to everyone, so it’d be worthwhile to lay them out.


As the story goes, when broadcaster Al Michaels wanted to leave ABC in 2006 to follow Monday Night Football (where Michaels was a member of the broadcast team from 1986 until the end of the series)


to Sunday Night Football on NBC,


ABC agreed to trade Michaels to NBC for Friday coverage of the Ryder Cup on ESPN, extended Olympic highlight coverage during the Olympics and also the rights to Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, an obscure early creation of Walt Disney, and one of the few (if the only) Disney cartoons that the Walt Disney company (who owns ABC and ESPN) did not own.


That’s basically exactly what happened, but what Jesse feels is worth noting, and I suppose he is correct, is that it was NOT a traditional “trade” in the sense that ABC did not trade Michaels’ contract to NBC, which is what you typically think of when you think “trade.”

This is because sports are an exception to standard contract rules, which specifically forbid the idea of forcing people to work for people that they do not want to work for. In other words, if Michaels did not want to work for ABC even though he signed a contract with them, he could. Of course, while he could refuse to work for them, he would be liable for the money he was paid, plus PERHAPS some penalties due to breaching the contract. In addition, while ABC could not force him to work for them, they WOULD be allowed to prevent him from working for rival companies.

And that is what really happened here.

Michaels was not traded, ABC was just compensated by NBC in exchange for ABC agreeing to terminating the contract extension that Michaels had just signed in 2003 (at the time, though, he did not know that ABC was going to lose the rights to televise his signature program just two years after he signed a long-term deal to stay with ABC). NBC then signed him to a completely new contract.


STATUS: False, only in the sense of being sticklers for specifics.

Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com

3 Responses to “Was Al Michaels Traded From ABC to NBC For, Among Other Things, a Cartoon Character?”

  1. “(at the time, though, he did not know that ABC was going to lose the rights to televise his signature program just two years after he signed a long-term deal to stay with ABC). ”

    Technically, also, ABC did not “lose” Monday Night Football”, as much as shifting it to ESPN. Both are part of the same corporation, and much of ABC’s sports operations are even FLAGGED as “ESPN on ABC” when they air on ABC affiliates.

    “Sunday night football” (in the general sense) had actually been a going concern on two cable networks for several years BEFORE the NBC program (being split between different parts of the seasons for the networks, the way NASCAR Sprint Cup auto racing coverage is currently split between Fox and ABC/ESPN).

    There were basically 4 packages of broadcast rights that the NFL offered; 2 large and 2 small.
    There was
    1. Most NFC games
    2. Most AFC games
    3. Monday Night Football
    4. (added later) Sunday night football (which for a time was considered experimental).

    The major networks also competed against each other for the rights to the conference playoffs and the Super Bowl. This worked fine while there were just 3 networks (ABC had MNF, NBC had the AFC, and CBS had the NFC). Then Fox entered the picture, and outbid CBS for the NFC package.

    What occurred was that, at a time when all the contracts came up, NBC wanted to bring NFL football back (it had gotten out of NFL broadcasting earlier when CBS had outbid THEM to get the AFC package, after losing the NFC package to FOX a few years prior).

    MNF was starting to wane as a revenue producer (Monday nights were a lot more competitive for TV than Sundays), and ABC was considering the move of MNF to ESPN (thereby helping BOTH ABC & ESPN’s Monday ratings). Note that actually WATCHING ESPN’s Monday Night Football makes it apparent that IT is the continuation of the same “series” that aired on ABC, and that NBC’s product was no relation to it.

    I believe that more research on the events will show that, either Michaels was lured away by NBC to give their Sunday night show more heft, or that Michaels did not want to be “demoted” to ESPN – possibly even both. The NFL may have swapped the price tags for the Sunday & Monday night packages to reflect the difference between broadcast network & cable network contracts, but that was probably an effect, not a cause, of the NBC bid, and the resulting negotiations that allowed ABC to finally reclaim its Monday night for normal TV.

    “Monday Night Football” did not move to Sunday on NBC, as the legend would infer, but instead had its contract downgraded to a cable-network contract and moved to ABC’s sister network ESPN, as a result of NBC wanting a Broadcast TV contract (after being cut out for a few years), and opting for the Sunday Night contract.

    It’s really a bit more complicated, but I’m trying to simplify it as much as possible.

  2. Found your site on del.icio.us today and really liked it.. i bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some more later..

  3. Good facts, thanks a bunch.

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