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ESPN Strikes Barter Deal With AFL

Always on the lookout for additional sports programming, ESPN, owned by Walt Disney Co., has structured an unusual five-year agreement with the Arena Football League (AFL).

In what  could be an equity model for the future, the transaction not only gives the cable network national TV rights to AFL games, but also a 10% ownership of the league. (In essence, ESPN is now an AFL owner.)

In addition to the ownership position, ESPN gets football programming without paying a multi-million-dollar rights fee. The AFL will pick up production costs, estimated at about $3.5 million, and split advertising revenue with ESPN after various costs are absorbed.

Last season more than 65 million viewers tuned in to watch AFL games on NBC, which has televised AFL for the last four years. This year some 26 games, nine post-season, will be televised by ESPN/ABC.