SBJ/June 4 - 10, 2001/No Topic Name

Little decided for nfl.com as season nears

The NFL and its potential partners in the production and marketing of nfl.com were still in heavy discussions on deals last week. As the NFL season nears and the window for creating and marketing the next-generation nfl.com site narrows, the situation is still complicated, said several close sources. Resolution could happen quickly or drag on many more weeks, they said.

While sources indicated last month that SportsLine.com was the front-runner to produce and market the site, ESPN Internet Group has been holding fresh discussions with the league during the last two weeks. ESPN Internet Group produces the site and can continue by matching a competitor's deal.

Simultaneously, America Online and the league were disagreeing over the length of a possible distribution deal, sources said.

AOL and SportsLine.com had been the front-runners to co-partner with the NFL several weeks ago, after ESPN Internet Group apparently chose to withdraw from the bargaining.

Executives at AOL, ESPN Internet Group and SportsLine.com did not return calls for comment. The NFL declined comment.

In the last few weeks, SportsLine.com's possible involvement was modified by the entrance of CBS and its parent, Viacom, into the picture, several sources said. CBS is a 20 percent owner of SportsLine and an NFL television partner, and sources said CBS and Viacom were considering contributing rights money and additional marketing avenues to sweeten the deal.

Similarly, an AOL deal would involve resources from other AOL Time Warner companies, such as Turner Sports.

The league has been angling to sign two deals, one with a sports entity, such as ESPN Internet Group or SportsLine.com, to produce the site and market it to serious fans, and another with a portal, such as AOL, to distribute content to more casual fans.

The AOL deal seemed somewhat precarious last week, sources said, as the company was leery of long-term sports-Web commitments in light of nascar.com's acknowledged difficulty in generating advertising revenue this year. Turner Sports is in the first year of a multiyear deal with NASCAR to produce the site.

Sources said AOL is interested in a two-year deal with the league and the option to extend beyond that, but the league was demanding a longer term.

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