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SBD Global/September 21, 2012/Media

NFL U.K. Boss Alistair Kirkwood Talks About TV Broadcast Challenges In U.K.

NFL U.K. Director Alistair Kirkwood
NFL U.K. Managing Dir Alistair Kirkwood took time this week to answer fans' questions on the league's website regarding the challenges of broadcasting the league in the U.K. The NFL U.K. agreed on a three-year broadcast extension with Sky Sports just hours before the season opener Sept. 5. In a Q&A on the league's website, Kirkwood wrote that "there is no TV solution out there that satisfies everyone" because some fans "want live games" while others want to "watch on delay." Kirkwood added, "I accept that we will never satisfy every single need because everybody has a different ideal solution." The following is an excerpt of the Q&A (NFL U.K.).

Q: When did negotiations start with the various broadcasters, and did any delay in securing one contract have a delaying effect in agreeing others?
Alistair Kirkwood: Informal conversations started in September, 2011 soon after the lockout had been resolved. The first formal sit-down meeting was at the beginning of December 2011 and was followed by a number of meetings and conversations, right up to and including Super Bowl. I think it’s fair to say that all media negotiations involving other sports, and not just us, were slowed down thereafter by uncertainty over the outcome of the Premier League negotiations and other factors such as the build-up to the Olympics. We had an internal target date of concluding negotiations by the end of March, and obviously we missed that target.

Q: Which party insists that the details of agreed contracts are secret?
Kirkwood: I think it is common business practice. I don’t think there is a particular side that insists, but there might be moments where a partner will ask for specific confidentiality on something they are working on, but I don’t know of any other sports who lay out their contract details. I understand that fan passion and interest in the sport is such that they want as much detail as possible but as someone who’s on the inside and who knows more than most, take it from me you would be unlikely to be satisfied once you know these details in any case. In the same way that a team might explain why their offense is spluttering or struggling, you’d never expect a head coach to reveal his playbook. Sometimes we can’t put things in the public domain because we would be in a poorer place with negotiations if we did, and we also know that some of our TV partners and prospective TV partners either look at our forums on a regular basis or in some cases participate in the forum under usernames.

Q: Is there any scope for bringing back alternative games during Sky’s three-year contract?
Kirkwood: It’s something that could happen in the future and was part of our ongoing discussions. I think one challenge is red button capacity which, particularly during Formula 1 weekends, is used to the absolute maximum. I doubt there would be anything this season, but who knows in future seasons.

Q: Why do fans in Germany and Australia get more in-depth NFL coverage i.e. more shows from NFL Network?
Kirkwood: Every TV market is different. Every TV station has different priorities, different capacities, and different opportunities. If I’m in the Middle East or Asia I can watch every Saturday 3pm Premier League game live, yet I can’t see a single one here in the U.K. That doesn’t mean that Dubai is a stronger hotbed for English Premier League football than England itself. Our media strategy is to try to get a balance between free-to-air coverage, in order to reach out to new fans and also those who can’t afford paid TV, as well as paid TV, which offers volume, quality and in-depth coverage of our sport. Other countries will have a more straightforward proposition by being on a single channel, but they may be in a foreign language or not on free-to-air TV. I accept that for some fans in the U.K. that’s not great as they look to other countries’ coverage, but we are trying to balance the needs of as many fans as possible.

Q: Explain the current situation with ESPN and the complete lack of coverage on their channel?
Kirkwood: ESPN made a decision not to bid for Monday Night Football this season and that’s their absolute right given what they prioritize and what they want to achieve. They remain excellent partners in the US and other countries, and we’d like to think they will be partners again here in the U.K. in the future. The other thing that I would like to stress is that often you have to make decisions for the medium term and not just the short term. A few years ago, we received very similar bids from Sky and Setanta with Setanta arguably offering much greater volume of coverage of our sport. We made a decision in the end to stay with Sky given the length of our partnership and their presence in the market, and a year or two later Setanta were no more. I’m not suggesting that this round of negotiations had a similar situation, but the concept remains that you have to make decisions that will place you in the best position for the medium to long term during every round of negotiations.

Finally, I want to assure you that we are fans as well in this office and watch every game broadcast live and also want as much of our sport available as possible. However, you need a completely competitive market in an optimistic economy to get the best possible outcome. Overall, I will maintain that we do pretty well compared to other sports of similar popularity, with our games being broadcast on Sky, Channel 4 and the BBC. There is still a lot of room for improvement and we need to increase the fan base and viewership over the next three years in order to get there and to be as attractive an offering as possible for broadcasters.

Click here for the full Q&A.
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