THE NATION 9S NEWSPAPER Can 9t get enough NFL? Just stay tuned Michael Hiestand USA TODAY The NFL is about to find out if it's hard to be humble. At least temporarily.
Tuesday, the undisputed heavyweight champion of American sports launches its NFL Network. But not to many viewers: No cable systems have signed to carry the network, although about 11 million households with satellite- delivered DirecTV will find it on channel 212. In 21st-century TV sports, however, that's not supposed to be a big deal.
The growth of satellite and digital cable TV, which already reach about 38% of TV households and offer space for hundreds of channels, makes it easier than ever for start-up networks to believe they'll eventually find their niche. The NFL is joining a stampede: There are 308 national cable networks, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association says, up from 145 in 1996. But amid the new or upcoming sports channels, such as those devoted to figure skating or extreme sports and even general football, the NFL has the most powerful brand name on the starting block.
"There was no shortage of firms wanting to throw money at the NFL to partner with it in a broadcasting venture," ... more. less.
says sports business consultant Marc Ganis, who has worked with several NFL teams. "But obviously the league chose to take the risk to keep all the upside." Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson says of the network: "I'm thrilled about it. Thrilled about it." Fans might feel more restrained because the network won't carry any regular-season or playoff games except for a condensed, hour-long version of a weekend NFL game the following Wednesday.<br><br> Live coverage of NFL games, which belong to the grown-up networks that collectively pay the league about $2.6 billion annually, is simply too valuable to send out on a channel that isn't available in most households. NFL Network President Steve Bornstein says the network, which has a $100 million launch budget and more than 100 employees, isn't expected to "be a player" in negotiations when the NFL's TV deals expire after the 2005 season. NFL game broadcasters repeatedly insist they don't see the league's channel as a threat.<br><br> But the new network presents intriguing possibilities. If the league eventually wanted to turbocharge its TV start-up, suggests Larry Novenstern of the Deutsch ad agency, a simple solution would be to put live games on its network: "All they'd have to do would be to make a few financial calculations to do it." Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver won't rule that out. Weaver, when asked if live game coverage eventually might appear on the network, said, "I have no clue." F a n t a s y p l a y e r s s h o u l d g e t t h e i r f i l l The NFL Network, with some of the same advertisers seen during NFL game coverage, shouldn't have a problem filling its 168 hours of weekly programming.<br><br> About two-thirds of it will come from NFL Films, which has November 3, 2003 Sports As seen in Reprinted with permission. All rights reserved. Special Reprint Edition L e a g u e k i c k s o f f o w n n e t w o r k T u e s d a y i n f a s t - g r o w i n g m a r k e t o f s p o r t s c h a n n e l s Practice session: Rich Eisen, a former ESPNanchor, gets a touch-up from Joanna Last during a dry run in preparation for Tuesday 9s launch of the NFL Network.<br><br> By Dan MacMedan, USA TODAY AS SEEN IN USA TODAY 9S SPORTS SECTION, NOVEMBER 3, 2003 110 million feet of film, including 90 million feet that has never been shown. Bornstein, who was president of ESPN when he left in 1999, says, "My theory of programming is that if you haven't seen it before, then it's fresh." Steve Sabol, president of NFL Films, says the 40-year-old production unit doesn't plan to try anything radically different on the network. "One of my favorite entertainers was Liberace.<br><br> And he said you should never change more than 50% of your act. That's what we want to do." The network also will offer its original dollops, such as letting viewers call in and vent 4 with interesting vents replayed on-air. Some of the network's main elements in a nightly Total Access news show will be up-close-and-personal looks at players, insights about officiating from league officials and hours of on-site local color from the league's big events.<br><br> Bornstein says, "It's hard to predict what we'll do that's terribly different from anybody else." The NFL Network's game plan might seem familiar to basketball fans. NBA TV, in about 44 million households, already offers similar elements and live coverage of four games a week. "We offer total immersion in the sport," NBA vice president Mike Bass says.<br><br> Viewers interested enough to focus on a sport even in its offseason also are likely to be fantasy league players, an obvious target for the NFL Network. Greg Ambrosius, president of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association, suggests there are about 15.2 million people who play fantasy sports 4 up from 6 million in 1998 4 and they always welcome more statistical information on TV. Bornstein says the network will cater to those viewers with elements such as "fantasy football data streams" while NFL games are being played.<br><br> But Ambrosius suggests the NFL Network might face prejudice as it caters to fantasy players: "It's the mainstream national advertisers that don't understand us. It comes back to people saying we're geeks. We're just die-hard fans." Bornstein suggests the network's Los Angeles location will give it an advantage in getting entertainment celebrities to drop by and appear on air.<br><br> Rich Eisen, the network's lead anchor, says, "Being out here a few weeks, it strikes me people in the entertainment industry are bigger sports fans than anybody else." Eisen, formerly an anchor with the Bristol, Conn.-based ESPN, suggests the NFL Network's surroundings give it an edge against other TV sports channels: "I saw (model) Rachel Hunter in the parking lot. You'd never see that in Bristol." N o w y o u s e e i t , n o w y o u d o n ' t When will you be able to see the NFL Network? That, Bornstein notes, is at the heart of the enterprise: "At the end of the day, we're all about distribution." The NFL is asking cable operators to pay 10-15 cents a household to carry the network.<br><br> But Bobby Amirshahi of Cox, which pays ESPN about $2.60 for each of its 6.3 million households, suggests even that small price might be high: "Their current value proposition . . .<br><br> prevents us from reaching an agreement." So even the mighty NFL must learn to be patient, says John Mansell, a senior analyst with the Kagan World Media research firm. "The NFL Network is just a struggling cable channel," he says. "It just takes time.<br><br> There's room." But probably not room to encroach on the broadcasters paying billions for TV rights to NFL games. Bornstein says the network will carry non-NFL programming during time slots when NFL pregame shows and games are available Sundays and Mondays. But with the possibility of putting games on its network, the NFL will always hold an ace.<br><br> Rick Gentile of the Football Network, a channel that will launch in December and focus on gridirons beyond the NFL, doesn't predict the NFL will do that. But Gentile, formerly a longtime top producer with CBS Sports, says the option gives the NFL "leverage" and "something they could yield as a club" in TV negotiations. As if the NFL, when it comes to TV, isn't already on a big enough gravy train.<br><br> Says Brian Bedol, who oversees College Sports TV: "I don't know why you'd bite the hand that feeds you. They're too smart at the NFL to do something so stupid" as giving up the TV paychecks from broadcasters. Bornstein expects the NFL Network will grovel before it can gloat.<br><br> But he expects cable operators, and eventually advertisers, will come around. "It usually comes down to money," he says. "But everybody wants to be associated with the NFL brand." Contributing: Mike Dodd Reprinted with permission.<br><br> All rights reserved. As seen in ExperienceUSATODAY NFL Network joins rush to single-subject TV, 1-2C APPLICATIONS: business, marketing, cooperative learning DISCUSSION: What programming will viewers see on the new NFL Network? Will the channel carry live games?<br><br> How does the NFL Network differ from the Football Network? After reading the article, do you think the NFL Network will fail or succeed? If the NFL is the cheavyweight champion of American sports, d then what is the NBA?<br><br> What is MLB? ACTIVITY: In small groups, adopt the roles of entrepreneurs who are developing a new niche network. Decide what the focus of your network will be, and develop a catchy name and slogan for it.<br><br> Next, list and briefly describe five programs that will air on your channel. Finally, explain who will watch your network and why you believe it will succeed. Share your ideas with peers.<br><br> Sports channels thrive Source: USA TODAY research By Marcy E. Mullins, USA TODAY The key to launching a TV channel is making it available to viewers. Helped by the expansion of satellite and digital cable TV, which give viewers hundreds of channels, various sports channels have been launched.<br><br> TV households at launch ESPN (1979) ESPN2 (1993) ESPN Classic 1 (1995) Outdoor Life (1995) Golf Channel (1995) Speed Channel 2 (1996) Fox Sports Net (1996) NBA TV 3 (1999) College Sports TV (2003) Fuel (2003) Households today 1 3 Originally launched as Classic Sports 2 3 Originally launched as Speedvision 3 3 Launched as NBA.com TV 4 3 Won 9t disclose (in millions) 88.2 86.5 1.4 10 .01 50 1.4 2 1 54 56 60 30 80 10 15 5 5 3 44 Tennis Channel (2003) 4 M o n e y M a t t e r s Do you think the amount of money professional ath- letes make each year is rea- sonable or exorbitant? Ultimately, who pays for players 9 salaries? Both the NFL and the NBA have salary caps.<br><br> Put simply, a salary cap is a set amount of money that each team is allowed to spend on player salaries for a given year. Salary caps are intended to help maintain a competitive balance in the league. The idea is that a team with a lot of money can 9t fill its roster with a slew of high-priced players, shutting out teams with smaller bankrolls.<br><br> Thus, if every team has the same limit, then every team can afford to assemble a high caliber lineup. Should the other major leagues implement salary caps? Explain why or why not.<br><br> Highest-paid players in each of the four major professional sports leagues 4 major league baseball, NBA, NFL and NHL: (in millions) Source: USA TODAY research Garnett brings in the big bucks Player (league, team) Kevin Garnett NBA Minnesota Timberwolves Alex Rodriguez MLB Texas Rangers Michael Strahan NFL New York Giants Jaromir Jagr NHL Washington Capitals 2003-04 season 2003 2002 2002-03 annual salary $27.7 $22 $20.6 $11.5 USA TODAY Snapshots By Ellen J. Horrow and Keith Simmons, USA TODAY APPLICATIONS: competition, knowledge, comparison, evaluation