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'MNF' moves to ESPN

NEW YORK(National Football League) -- The NFL's Monday Night Football, a staple on ABC for the past 35 seasons, will move to ESPN starting with the 2006 season.

And NBC is returning to the NFL after six years away by taking the Sunday night broadcast previously on ESPN.

The Monday night move from network TV to basic cable, hinted at continually by commissioner Paul Tagliabue, was confirmed by two sources familiar with the deals who spoke to The Associated Press under condition of anonymity. The sources said the deals is for eight years.

NBC will get the Sunday night package for six years, according to the sources. The network will also get the Super Bowl in 2009 and 2012 as part of the deal, one of the sources said.

The moves leave ABC -- which originated Monday Night Football in 1970 -- as the only major network without NFL football.

ABC and ESPN are both subsidiaries of the Walt Disney Co. The deal with ESPN, which currently carries games every Sunday night and sometimes on Thursday, was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Last month, Tagliabue said during the NFL meetings in Hawaii that the Monday night move was a strong possibility. ABC, which has been losing money on the package despite high ratings, had been balking at the NFL's asking price.

CBS and Fox already have agreed to pay a total of $8 billion over six years for the Sunday AFC and NFC rights.

That has become more pressing since parity caused by the salary cap has resulted in teams moving up and down the standings annually, leaving bad teams that were strong the previous season in prime time and good teams that were bad the past season off of it.

The NFL is still considering separate packages for Thursday and late-season Saturday nights.

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