SBJ/March 11 - 17, 2002/Other News

NFL rolls Internet and publishing into new group, picks Russo to lead it

The NFL is combining its Internet and publishing operations into a new media/publishing group that will be headed by Chris Russo. Russo's new title is likely to be senior vice president new media/publishing, but that has not been made official. Publishing responsibilities previously fell under the NFL's marketing department.

The mini reorganization is in line with an industry move that sees media companies combining Web sites with magazines and newspapers, since they are all essentially editorial operations. In the case of the NFL, staffers already had been contributing to nfl.com and the NFL Insider magazine.

"It's an opportunity to integrate all of our editorial content even further, leverage it across multiple platforms and do some cross-promotion and cross-selling to an even greater extent," Russo said.

Coordination of sales efforts also will be explored. Ad sales have been shared by SportsLine.com for Internet advertising, Primedia for NFL Insider, and the NFL's sponsorship group, which has driven ad dollars to both properties as part of larger sponsorship packages.

While the league has a year left on a 3-year-old magazine deal that has Primedia producing the 1 million-plus-circulation NFL Insider, one of Russo's tasks will be to find a new publishing deal. In the past year, the NFL has held talks with publishers, including AOL Time Warner's Sports Illustrated and Dennis Publishing, whose Maxim is one of the biggest recent success stories in magazine publishing. Primedia is debt laden and has been selling off and shutting down assets of late.

Meanwhile, NFL Insider, like many magazines hit by the ad slump, has cut its yearly run from a high of eight issues to four last year.

Russo helped craft the five-year, $325 million Internet deal the NFL signed last year with SportsLine, AOL and Viacom.

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