By JOE REEDY, AP Sports Reporter
Three huge showdowns to kick off the college football season, the XFL, a new Australian Open deal and two new ’30 for 30′ documentaries were announced by ESPN on Tuesday as part of its pitch to advertisers in New York. .
The five-year deal with the XFL concluded the presentation. It includes all 43 games (40 regular season and playoffs) on ABC, ESPN and FX. XFL owners Dany Garcia and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson were in attendance and broke the news. The XFL is scheduled to kick off on February 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, this is 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 road debut against Ohio State at 7:30 p.m. The day will kick off with ESPN’s “College GameDay” from Columbus, Ohio for its first on-campus show of the season.
Former Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly is in the ABC primetime spotlight the following night when LSU takes on Florida State in New Orleans.
Many thought ABC might have to scrap the Notre Dame-Ohio State game as a way for Fox to let Joe Buck terminate his contract early to join Troy Aikman on the “Monday Night Football” stand. But ESPN’s president of programming and original content, Burke Magnus, said that wasn’t considered.
“Fox has the No. 1 pick overall with the Big 10. Historically and appropriately, every year it’s been Ohio State-Michigan. We knew Notre Dame-Ohio State was going to come at us at No. 2 and then we weren’t going to let that go,” Magnus said. “It’s just a huge game to kick off the season. Labor Day weekend has become such a franchise for us. It’s clear that there is no competition in the NFL, and there there are so many meaningful college football games played.
ABC will have the Sept. 24 game between Wisconsin at Ohio State, Texas at Oklahoma at Dallas on Oct. 8, and Florida at Florida State on Nov. 25. The showdown between the Sunshine State rivals will take place the day after Thanksgiving for the first time.
ESPN renewed its deal for the Australian Open until 2031. It extended its deal with Wimbledon until 2035 last year and has the rights to the US Open until 2025.
The nine-year deal with Tennis Australia will include increased hours on ESPN and ESPN2. Viewers have complained about the dwindling coverage of this year’s tournament on linear channels, particularly during the nighttime hours, which are nighttime matches in Australia. Those matches were on the ESPN+ streaming service.
“Frankly, we have the availability, so we will add night coverage on the linear networks. I think it will strike 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 shift more in the direction of linear.”
ESPN+ will continue to have exclusive coverage of all games not on ESPN or ESPN2, as well as on-demand replays of completed games 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 on Tuesday:
ESPN Films will have two “30 for 30” documentaries this year about big pool 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 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 movie 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 PK Subban (hockey).
Manning’s production company, Omaha Productions, will have its first UFC Megacast on July 2 with UFC 276 in Las Vegas. He is headlined by the middleweight title fight between titleholder Israel Adesanya and Jared Cannonier.
Peyton and Eli Manning hosted the ESPN portion of the Disney Upfront, which also includes the “Monday Night Football” team of Buck, Aikman and Lisa Salters.
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