SBJ/September 1 - 7, 2003/Special Report

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  • 2003 National Football League franchise directory

    The following presents an overview of each NFL franchise at the start of the 2003 season. Information on each team's owner pertains to majority ownership stakes.

    Arizona Cardinals

    Owner: William and Charles Bidwill assumed ownership when their mother, Violet, died in 1962. William bought out his brother in 1972 to become sole owner.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Sun Devil Stadium/73,014 (1958)

    Stadium owner: State of Arizona

    Ad agencies: EB Lane; Smith & Harroff Inc.

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: Deloitte & Touche

    Atlanta Falcons

    Owner: Arthur Blank acquired the team for $545 million in December 2001.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Georgia Dome/71,228 (1992)

    Stadium owner: Georgia World Congress Authority (State of Georgia)

    Ad agency: In-house

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: PricewaterhouseCoopers

    Baltimore Ravens

    Owner: Art Modell purchased the Cleveland Browns franchise for $4 million in 1961 and subsequently moved the franchise to Baltimore in February 1996, when it assumed the name Baltimore Ravens. Also in 1996, Modell and partner Alfred Lerner bought 43 percent of the franchise from Bob Gries, who had assumed a 5 percent stake in the team in 1991 but had later gained control of his family's entire stake in the team upon the death of his father. Modell in 1997 bought Lerner's 9 percent for $32 million. In 1999, Stephen Bisciotti bought 49 percent of the team for $275 million and acquired the right to buy the remaining 51 percent in 2004 for $325 million.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): M&T Bank Stadium/69,084 (1998)

    Stadium owner: Maryland Stadium Authority (State of Maryland)

    Ad agency: Leffler Agency

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: Ernst & Young

    Buffalo Bills

    Owner: Ralph Wilson Jr. paid a $25,000 franchise fee for the American Football League team in 1959.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Ralph Wilson Stadium/73,967 (1973)

    Stadium owner: Erie County

    Ad agency: Martino-Flynn LLC

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: DND

    Carolina Panthers

    Owner: A group headed by Jerry Richardson paid a $140 million expansion fee in 1993.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Ericsson Stadium/73,366 (1996)

    Stadium owner: Carolinas Stadium Corp. (team owner)

    Ad agency: Luquire George Andrews Inc.

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: DND

    Chicago Bears

    Owner: Virginia McCaskey assumed principal ownership when her father, George Halas, died in 1983. Patrick Ryan and Andrew McKenna each bought 10 percent of the team in 1990.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Soldier Field/61,500 (1924)

    Stadium owner: City of Chicago

    Ad agency: BDDB

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: Ernst & Young

    Cincinnati Bengals

    Owner: Mike Brown assumed ownership when his father, Paul, died in 1991.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Paul Brown Stadium/65,327 (2000)

    Stadium owner: Hamilton County

    Ad agencies: BK White & Associates; Graff Designs

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: KPMG

    Cleveland Browns

    Owner: Randy Lerner assumed ownership when his father, Al, died in October 2002. Alfred Lerner and Carmen Policy paid a $530 million expansion fee for the team in 1998.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Cleveland Browns Stadium/73,200 (1999)

    Stadium owner: City of Cleveland

    Ad agency: Marcus Thomas LLC

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: Ernst & Young

    Dallas Cowboys

    Owner: Jerry Jones bought the team and the lease to Texas Stadium for $150 million in 1989.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Texas Stadium/65,529 (1971)

    Stadium owner: City of Irving

    Ad agency: In-house

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: Reznick Fedder and Silverman

    Denver Broncos

    Owner: Pat Bowlen bought 60 percent of the team for $70 million in 1984. He and his family bought out the remaining partners in 1985.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Invesco Field at Mile High/76,125 (2001)

    Stadium owner: City of Denver

    Ad agency: In-house

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: Morrison, Brown, Argiz & Co.

    Detroit Lions

    Owner: William Clay Ford bought the team for $4.5 million in 1964.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Ford Field/64,500 (2002)

    Stadium owner: City of Detroit/Wayne County

    Ad agency: In-house

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: Ernst & Young

    Green Bay Packers

    Owner: Local businesses in Green Bay set up a nonprofit corporation to save the team from bankruptcy in 1922.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Lambeau Field/72,515 (1957)

    Stadium owner: City of Green Bay/Brown County

    Ad agencies: Lindsay, Stone & Briggs*; Karma Group*

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: Wipfli Ullrich Bertelson

    Houston Texans

    Owner: Robert McNair paid a $700 million expansion fee in 1999.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Reliant Stadium/71,054 (2002)

    Stadium owner: City of Houston/Harris County

    Ad agencies: Rives Carlberg; Active Imagination

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: KPMG

    Indianapolis Colts

    Owner: James Irsay assumed ownership when his father, Robert, died in 1997.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): RCA Dome/55,506 (1984)

    Stadium owner: Indianapolis Capital Improvements Board (City of Indianapolis)

    Ad agency: Bates USA

    Public relations: Borshoff Johnson Matthews

    Auditor: Ernst & Young

    Jacksonville Jaguars

    Owner: A group headed by Wayne Weaver paid a $140 million expansion fee in 1993.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Alltel Stadium/76,877 (1995)

    Stadium owner: City of Jacksonville

    Ad agency: Dalton Agency

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: KPMG

    Kansas City Chiefs

    Owner: Lamar Hunt paid a $25,000 franchise fee for the American Football League Dallas Texans in 1959. He moved the team to Kansas City and renamed it the Chiefs in 1963. In 1997, Hunt transferred 80 percent interest in the team to his children.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Arrowhead Stadium/79,451 (1972)

    Stadium owner: Jackson County Sports Authority (Jackson County)

    Ad agency: In-house

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: KPMG

    Miami Dolphins

    Owner: In 1994 Wayne Huizenga bought 85 percent of the team and 50 percent of Pro Player Stadium from the Robbie family for $109 million, plus $15 million in assumed debt. Huizenga already owned the remaining shares of the team and the stadium.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Pro Player Stadium/75,540 (1987)

    Stadium owner: Wayne Huizenga

    Ad agency: Zimmerman & Partners Advertising

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: Deloitte & Touche

    Minnesota Vikings

    Owner: Red McCombs bought 95 percent of the team for $206 million plus $40 million in assumed debt in 1998.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome/64,121 (1982)

    Stadium owner: Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission (State of Minnesota)

    Ad agency: Berg Design Group

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: KPMG

    New England Patriots

    Owner: Robert Kraft bought the team from James Orthwein for $158 million in 1994.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Gillette Stadium/68,436 (2002)

    Stadium owner: Robert Kraft

    Ad agency: In-house

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: Ernst & Young

    New Orleans Saints

    Owner: A group headed by Tom Benson bought the team from John Mecom Jr. for $70.2 million in 1985. Benson bought out his partners to become sole owner in 1993.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Louisiana Superdome/68,397 (1975)

    Stadium owner: Louisiana Stadium and Exposition District (State of Louisiana)

    Ad agency: Peter Mayer Advertising Agency

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: Ernst & Young

    New York Giants

    Owner: Robert Tisch bought 50 percent of the team for $75 million in 1991. Wellington Mara controls the other 50 percent.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Giants Stadium/80,242 (1976)

    Stadium owner: New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority (State of New Jersey)

    Ad agency: In-house

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: Deloitte & Touche

    New York Jets

    Owner: Robert Wood Johnson IV bought the team from the estate of Leon Hess for $635 million in 2000.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Giants Stadium/80,242 (1976)

    Stadium owner: New Jersey Sports & Exposition Authority (State of New Jersey)

    Ad agencies: Pentagram; National Communications Group

    Public relations: SS&K Inc.

    Auditor: Ernst & Young

    Oakland Raiders

    Owner: Al Davis bought 10 percent of the team for $18,500 in 1966. He currently owns 28 percent, making him the largest shareholder.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Network Associates Coliseum/63,132 (1966)

    Stadium owner: City of Oakland/Alameda County

    Ad agency: In-house

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: DND

    Philadelphia Eagles

    Owner: In 1994 Jeffrey Lurie bought the team for $185 million, including the assumption of $8 million in liabilities.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Lincoln Financial Field/69,030 (2003)

    Stadium owner: City of Philadelphia

    Ad agency: In-house

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: Deloitte & Touche

    Pittsburgh Steelers

    Owner: The Rooney family assumed ownership when Art Rooney died in 1988.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Heinz Field/64,350 (2001)

    Stadium owner: Sports & Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County (City of Pittsburgh/Allegheny County)

    Ad agency: In-house

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: Ernst & Young

    San Diego Chargers

    Owner: Alex Spanos bought 56 percent of the team from Eugene Klein for $40 million in 1984. Spanos has since increased his stake to 97 percent.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Qualcomm Stadium/70,000 (1967)

    Stadium owner: City of San Diego

    Ad agency: Red Lizard

    Public relations: Quorum

    Auditor: PricewaterhouseCoopers

    San Francisco 49ers

    Owner: Denise DeBartolo York assumed sole ownership in March 2000 when her brother, Edward, gave up his share in a financial settlement.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): 49ers Stadium at Candlestick Point/69,734 (1960)

    Stadium owner: City and county of San Francisco

    Ad agency: In-house

    Public relations: Singer Associates Inc.

    Auditor: Deloitte & Touche

    Seattle Seahawks

    Owner: Paul Allen bought the team from Ken Behring for $200 million in 1997.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Seahawks Stadium/67,000 (2002)

    Stadium owner: Washington State Public Stadium Authority (City of Seattle)

    Ad agencies: Publicis; Levy Sheckler

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: KPMG

    St. Louis Rams

    Owner: Georgia Frontiere assumed ownership when her husband, Carroll Rosenbloom, died in 1979. Stan Kroenke bought 30 percent of the team for $60 million in 1995 and exercised an option to buy an additional 10 percent for $20 million in 1998.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Edward Jones Dome at America's Center/66,000 (1995)

    Stadium owner: St. Louis Regional Sports Authority (City of St. Louis)

    Ad agency: Rodgers Townsend

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: Ernst & Young

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Owner: Malcolm Glazer bought the team from the estate of Hugh Culverhouse for $192 million in 1995.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): Raymond James Stadium/65,657(1998)

    Stadium owner: City of Tampa

    Ad agency: In-house

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: KPMG

    Tennessee Titans

    Owner: Bud Adams paid a $25,000 franchise fee for the American Football League Houston Oilers in 1959. The team moved to Nashville in 1997 and later was renamed.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): The Coliseum/68,809 (1999)

    Stadium owner: City of Nashville

    Ad agency: DND

    Public relations: DND

    Auditor: Ernst & Young

    Washington Redskins

    Owner: A group headed by Daniel Snyder bought the team, FedEx Field and the team's practice facility in 1999 for $800 million, including the assumption of $495 million in debt, from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation.

    Stadium/capacity (year built): FedEx Field/86,484 (1997)

    Stadium owner: Daniel Snyder

    Ad agency: In-house

    Public relations: In-house

    Auditor: PricewaterhouseCoopers

    Research by David Broughton

    * Lindsay, Stone & Briggs handles advertising for Lambeau Field Atrium, and Karma Group handles advertising for the Packers Pro Shop retail, catalog and Internet business. Both entities are owned by the team.

    DND: Did not disclose

    Sources: Team officials

    Print | Tags: Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Football, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, KPMG, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, NFL, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, PricewaterhouseCoopers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks, LA Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins
  • 2003 NFL sponsors

    The NFL has a roster of 21 official sponsors for the 2003 season. New this year are Bayer and IBM. Sponsors in 2002 that are not returning are CNS Inc./Breathe Right Nasal Strips (sponsor since 1995), E-Trade Group Inc. (1999), E.&J. Gallo Winery (1994), Paul Arpin Van Lines Inc. (1984), S.C. Johnson Inc./Edge (1991) and Thomson Multimedia S.A./RCA (1997).

    Print | Tags: Bayer, Campbell Soup, Canon, Castrol, Football, Frito-Lay, Kraft Foods, Kraft Sports Group, NFL, PepsiCo, Quaker Oats, Staples, Visa
  • Commitment to the brand

    The following data shows the strength of the NFL brand relative to other sports properties, according to research compiled by Knowledge Networks Inc. Cranford, N.J.-based Knowledge Networks rated the properties below based on a measure defined as "resonance" and using responses to a March poll of more than 1,000 people, ages 18-49.

    Resonance is defined by Knowledge Networks as the result of combining several factors related to a brand's power, including the attachment a user feels to the brand and the extent to which users of that brand represent a community with shared interests and values. In the charts below, the numbers represent the scores posted by each property in the survey results. Scores are scaled from 1 to 100, with 100 being the highest.

    The properties are listed by their scores in the category of all adults, ages 18-49.

    Resonance of sports properties
      Adults 18-49 Men 21-34 Men 35-49 Women 21-34 Women 35-49
    NFL 53.9 61.6 57.8 47.6 47.1
    NASCAR 52.2 54.8 51.2 51.5 51.3
    MLB 48.5 52.6 51.6 48.6 40.5
    NCAA men’s basketball 48.5 54.9 51.5 40.6 37.4
    MLS 47.9 53.8 44.9 45.8 50.2
    NBA 46.6 53.5 49.9 44.2 37.6
    Olympics 44.1 40.8 44.4 44.2 46.4
    NHL 43.4 47.3 41.8 41 42
    PGA 42.5 49.5 41.8 37.8 37.4
    Resonance of sports leagues’ advertising
      Adults 18-49 Men 21-34 Men 35-49 Women 21-34 Women 35-49
    NASCAR 50.8 50.1 51.8 50.6 50.3
    NFL 49.5 51.4 52.2 48.9 46.2
    NCAA men’s basketball 45.3 47.2 47.6 40.7 40.4
    Olympics 44.9 45.3 45.9 44.6 45
    NBA 44.8 45.9 48.9 44.1 38.1
    MLB 44.5 46.2 47.3 41.4 40.8
    MLS 43.8 41.9 46.6 41.4 46.2
    PGA 43.3 46.3 43.9 42.4 39.4
    NHL 42.2 42.2 43.1 41 41.5
    Source: Knowledge Networks


    Print | Tags: Baseball, Basketball, Colleges, Football, Golf, Hockey, MLB, MLS, Motorsports, NASCAR, NBA, NCAA, NFL, NHL, Olympics, Soccer
  • Drug makers turn to NFL to challenge Viagra

    In the parlance of football, Bayer Pharmaceuticals Corp. and GlaxoSmithKline anticipated U.S. government approval of a jointly marketed erectile dysfunction drug, Levitra, much as fans would view a point-after-touchdown kick. It was all but certain.

    Yet until this presumed competitor to Pfizer's highly profitable Viagra brand had the Food and Drug Administration's formal blessing, Bayer and GSK, the NFL's first pharmaceutical sponsors, were prohibited by law from even talking in generalities about marketing and advertising Levitra among the NFL's weekly, mostly male television audience of 120 million.

    When the FDA cleared Levitra on Aug. 19, the gag order dissolved but Bayer and GSK continued to veil in mystery their plans for the three-year deal with the NFL, which industry sources say represents more than $5 million a year in found sponsor revenue for the league.

    "Obviously, we've been hoping and planning for an approval," said GSK's director of product communications, Michael Fleming. "At this point, we don't want to flag what we're doing for our friends at Pfizer."

    With the regular season opening this week, what is known is that broadcaster, corporate speaker and NFL hall of famer Mike Ditka is the Bayer-GSK paid endorser. His public revelation about experiencing impotence is only part of Ditka's appeal, according to the brand's spokespeople, who insist he is not the Levitra poster guy but the point man for a broader medical awareness campaign called "Tackling Men's Health."

    "[Ditka] is a real guy," Bayer spokeswoman Lara Crissey said. "We think he knows how to connect."

    Now that the NFL no longer bans pharmaceutical advertising, the Bayer-GSK sponsorship is to be geared heavily toward TV ad buys during NFL telecasts, with separate themes for Levitra and Tackling Men's Health. A CommonHealth advertising and marketing agency, The Quantum Group of Parsippany, N.J., was awarded the NFL campaign, which is expected to debut along with the 2003-04 regular season.

    NFL director of communications Brian McCarthy said the league has the right to review proposed and finished ad spots. The NFL had a collaborative role in the decision to hire Ditka and in the development of a parallel health awareness campaign, McCarthy said. "This is where we benefit, and we also think our fans benefit as well," he said.

    Eventually, Bayer-GSK's presence will reach local NFL markets via TV and in-stadium signs, but there will be no NFL player filling the roles of Viagra spokesmen Rafael Palmeiro of Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers or Mark Martin of NASCAR. The NFL prohibits active players, coaches or team owners from endorsing a pharmaceutical brand.

    The makers of Levitra are using tough guy Mike Ditka to promote men’s health issues.
    The campaign also is being adapted to reach Internet users. In their quest for news and stats, NFL fans have made one of the most heavily trafficked sports Web sites. Bayer's Crissey said a Levitra/Tackling Men's Health link is planned for the NFL site.

    Bayer and GSK went after the NFL sponsor category aggressively to reach a vast, loyal male audience, not only in an attempt to erode Viagra's hold on the market but to establish itself ahead of a third erectile dysfunction drug, by Eli Lilly & Co. and Icos Corp., due to launch this year.

    While Viagra did $1.7 billion in sales last year, the market remains lucrative. GSK's Fleming cited estimates that only about 15 percent of the 30 million American males with some degree of erectile dysfunction are being treated, and that half of that group does not refill their prescriptions.

    The Bayer-GSK Levitra strategy is not only to drive sales through advertising the drug's effectiveness but also to persuade men to consult with a physician on a range of health issues, during which erectile dysfunction might find its way into a conversation. The companies behind Levitra intend Ditka, an NFL icon as a Chicago Bears player and coach, to be associated with the indirect part of the strategy. "He is not a product spokesman," Fleming said.

    Even so, Ditka is on record about previously taking Viagra — before he was under contract to Bayer and GSK — and it appears inevitable that the attention fueled by his role will center on what he has to say about overcoming impotence. His comments in an Aug. 3 Chicago Tribune interview that Levitra is "supposed to be better [than Viagra], stronger and no side effects" caused a minor furor as the remarks came ahead of FDA approval.

    Linking Ditka's image to the campaign "takes the stigma and the shame [of impotence] away," said Nova Lanktree, executive vice president of athlete marketing agency CSMG.

    Lanktree has booked Ditka on behalf of numerous advertisers in the past. "He is someone we have all thought of in a John Wayne sort of way," she said. "[Ditka] is that stereotypically macho man."

    Whether consumers can be persuaded to ask doctors to prescribe Levitra remains to be seen, but marketing consultant Dean Bonham, president of the Denver-based Bonham Group, said it is vital that Bayer and GSK not worry about comparing marketing strategies to anything Pfizer has done the past five years.

    "I think it is right on target," Bonham said of the NFL strategy. "I think it can break through."

    Ultimately, because Viagra long ago created awareness of erectile dysfunction on a global scale, the primary task facing Levitra's creative team will be empowering male football fans to translate awareness into personal action. That is the approach recommended by Sandeep Dayal, chief marketing officer of Zyman Marketing Group, the agency created by former Coca-Cola CMO Sergio Zyman.

    "Admission [of impotence] can lead to guilt, and that is not a pleasant feeling," Dayal said. "So it can become a psychological barrier."

    Bayer and GSK are spending more than $15 million in sponsorship fees and tens of millions more for advertising time to crumble that barrier.

    "Pharmaceutical marketers have to be careful," Dayal said. "It is easy to spend money on sponsorships. But it is difficult to spend it smart."

    Steve Woodward is a writer in Chicago.

    Print | Tags: Baseball, Bayer, Chicago Bears, Football, GlaxoSmithKline, MLB, Motorsports, NASCAR, NFL, Pfizer, Texas Rangers
  • NFL Network seeks broad distribution

    There's something about the letters N-F-L that can open doors and put a swagger in the step of anyone walking through them.

    From one standpoint, the Nov. 4 launch of the league-owned NFL Network faces an array of hurdles. While nearly 11 million satellite subscribers are already lined up through a distribution deal with DirecTV, that agreement was tied to DirecTV's five-year, $2 billion contract to carry the Sunday Ticket out-of-market television package.

    The complex deal blocked cable out of getting Sunday Ticket for at least three years, coinciding with the current network television contracts that expire after the 2005 season. Not getting Sunday Ticket at this juncture disappointed many cable operators, who now aren't exactly looking to do the NFL any favors.

    Instead, many experts think some operators will try to keep the NFL Network off their systems as a bargaining chip in future negotiations for Sunday Ticket.

    "The cable industry wants [the NFL Network]," said Roger Werner, the former president of ESPN and founder of Outdoor Life Network and Speedvision. "But Sunday Ticket is something the operators will want to tie into it."

    Setting the hurdles even higher, the NFL is insisting on relatively broad distribution. Other specialty channels such as CSTV, the Tennis Channel and NBA TV have settled for placement on sports packages like DirecTV's "Sports Pack" or Time Warner's nascent sports tier, where operators can pass the programming costs directly to customers who pay an extra fee. Those packages are thought to reach 10 to 20 percent of a cable company's total subscriber base.

    NBA Commissioner David Stern has said he'll accept placement on cable sports tiers for NBA TV, which has live coverage of four games per week.

    The NFL Network won't show live regular-season games but isn't so accommodating. If operators want to put the network on a tier, they will have to place it on multiple tiers beyond sports to ensure broad delivery to consumers.

    "Ten percent distribution rate is not going to be good enough," said Steve Bornstein, the former ESPN president who's been tapped to run the NFL Network and the league's television business. "[Cable operators] can launch it on a sports tier, but at the end of the day the aggregate is going to have to be broader than that."

    The NFL, Bornstein points out, is the most popular sport and the most popular television property in America. Its preseason games (which the NFL Network will air) out-rate the postseason for most other sports.

    Bornstein believes the league's enormous following, combined with a few extra goodies for operators such as access to the NFL Films library for video-on-demand purposes, will get the NFL Network onto cable this season.

    "There's no doubt in my mind that we're going to get broad distribution with the NFL Network very quickly," he said last week. "Prior to launch we'll be announcing a couple of [distribution] deals."

    The video-on-demand element will allow cable companies that carry the NFL Network to also offer customers 24-hours-a-day access to certain NFL Films shows, as well as coach's shows and other shoulder programming that originates in specific NFL team markets. The content would be free to viewers who have V-O-D capable cable boxes.

    Bornstein said operators who offer their customers both NFL Network and the V-O-D will be taking "the first step in having a relationship with the NFL," adding that "enlightened cable operators see it that way."

    In other words, the message the NFL is giving to the cable industry is: Take what we can give you now, and in three years we'll talk about Sunday Ticket.

    The cable industry is being quiet about how it feels about the NFL Network proposition. The major operators all declined to comment for this story, citing the sensitivity of ongoing negotiations.

    Experts predict that, simply by virtue of its clout and popularity, the NFL probably can get some cable deals done on those terms.

    "I think there's enough interest in the NFL that they [cable operators] will start to pick it up this fall," said Barry Frank, senior corporate vice president at IMG's TWI division. "It's pretty compelling stuff."

    Frank said the network will need at least 40 million homes to be viable, but he thinks it can get there by appealing to the large number of frequent gamblers, who collectively wager billions of dollars each year on NFL games and are always looking for an inside edge.

    That's not something the league wants to acknowledge, but Bornstein did say the network will cater to an equally zealous audience, the estimated 12 million fantasy football league players.

    "Clearly we've been watching the trend of increased fantasy play," he said. "It's a phenomenon that really seems underserved. It's a low-hanging fruit."

    The "Playbook" show, an NFL Films-produced hour of in-depth updates on players and teams, will cater to that crowd, airing every weeknight at 10 p.m. ET and repeating several times the next day.

    The prime-time lineup begins at 8 p.m. with "NFL Total Access," a football-themed news, talk and variety show anchored by former ESPN sportscaster Rich Eisen, who will talk directly to players and coaches from each of the 32 teams who will serve as the show's analysts.

    The 9 p.m. ET show will be "NFL Films Presents." Each Wednesday segment will be a high-definition highlight reel, with the trademark NFL Films baritone narration, of a game from the previous week.

    The NFL Network will add more original programming as time goes on, but at launch, most of its non-prime-time lineup will be from the NFL Films library.

    Many believe the next three years are simply a warm-up for the NFL Network, after which the league will use the network as a bargaining lever in new rights talks with the primary networks. If ESPN or a broadcast network won't meet the league's asking price in the next television negotiations, the NFL can create competition by having its own network bid to air a game or two per week.

    Bornstein downplays that scenario. He said bluntly, "We don't anticipate putting live games on this network." His belief is that the NFL Network simply doesn't need them.

    Print | Tags: CBSSN, ESPN, Football, NBA, NFL
  • NFL premium seat directory

  • Passion for the league

    The following presents the percentage of fans in each of several NFL markets who were surveyed between July 2002 and June 2003 about their level of interest in the NFL. The local-market responses are compared with the responses posted by sports fans nationally and by NFL fans in Los Angeles. The Colts, Vikings and Chargers all have been named as potential teams for a franchise relocation to Los Angeles. The Raiders and Rams (both formerly of Los Angeles) as well as the 49ers are considered the most popular franchises among L.A. NFL fans. The Texans began play in Houston last year after that city was awarded an expansion team over a push from the L.A. market.

    Print | Tags: Football, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Minnesota Vikings, NFL, Oakland Raiders, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, LA Rams
  • Stadium revenue disparity puts teams at odds

    New or totally renovated NFL stadiums open this month in Philadelphia, Green Bay and Chicago. Depending on whom you talk to at the league, however, the debuts are not necessarily a great development.

    Within America's most powerful sport, a divisive debate is raging about the burgeoning revenue disparity between clubs, especially among those enjoying new stadiums and those in creakier facilities.

    Because much of the money that stadiums generate from such areas as luxury suites and sponsorships is now shared with the players under the league's collective-bargaining agreement, thereby raising the salary cap, teams in old stadiums not showered in new cash still must pay ever-escalating player salaries.

    "The teams that are playing in stadiums more than eight years old are losing ground rapidly," said Marc Ganis, a consultant to several NFL teams. Roughly half of the league's 32 teams play in stadiums newly built or renovated in the last decade.

    In fact, teams on the bottom end of the revenue heap are beginning to describe the problem with the phrase "unfunded mandate." Just as that term is bandied about in politics to refer to the federal government telling the states how much money to spend on a specific need, but without providing the cash, so now some teams are complaining that they are getting squeezed by a rising salary cap and widening revenue disparity.

    According to an NFL source, average local revenues for teams in the league's first quartile are between $90 million and $100 million, compared with a $50 million to $60 million range for the bottom quartile. National revenues were $75 million per club during the 2001-02 season, according to the Green Bay Packers' annual report.

    At the same time, the league's salary cap has risen from $34.6 million in 1994 to $71 million last season.

    Because of the lucrative national TV and sponsorship contracts, which are shared across all 32 teams, no team is unprofitable. But several years down the road, worried one NFL source, the league could face a financial crisis akin to Major League Baseball's.

    "The tide is going to turn, and if we wait until that day comes, then as a league we are going to have such a wide gulf between clubs that we will be like baseball," this source said.

    The three teams most identified by sources with the case for sharing more local revenues (the Oakland Raiders, Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals) either declined comment or could not be reached. Those teams were the only ones at the annual meeting in March to vote against an extension of the league's G-3 program, which grants league money to teams, primarily in large cities, to build stadiums.

    If it were just those three clubs, clearly the issue would stop there in a 32-team league, where each franchise has an equal vote. But sources say that the league's powerful commissioner, Paul Tagliabue, is sympathetic to the issue. And while not pledging to any specific action, he sounded amenable to some change in revenue sharing.

    "There are a lot of reasons for revenue disparity," he said in a recent interview (see "Tagliabue keeps his focus on the future"). "We've adjusted some of our policies in recent years, and adopted new policies. And I'm sure we will continue to do that, to try to guarantee that there is an incentive at the team level to promote NFL football and promote your team. But at the same time, the ability of all teams to compete for player talent within the framework of the collective-bargaining agreement, that's the critical fact."

    Proponents of keeping the current system counter that many teams in new stadiums carry substantial debt incurred to build their new palaces. Forcing them to hand over more revenue not only could significantly harm these clubs, but could dissuade others from building their own stadiums. Several big-city teams, like the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets, are looking to build new homes.

    "You don't want to deter teams from making large investments of their own money in stadiums ... [that] then generate a large revenue number needed to pay off debt," said Joe Banner, chief operating officer of the Philadelphia Eagles, who have annual interest payments near $30 million. Banner is also the team's "capologist," the position that manages a club's salary cap.

    The NFL's revenue-sharing formula is complex and actually involves several different models. There is the revenue shared with the players, who receive roughly 65 percent of most national money as well as an increasing share of local cash from deals such as sponsorships and luxury suites.

    The teams also share among themselves to the tune of between $30 million and $40 million a year, which comes from relocation fees, personal seat licenses and the visiting team share of club-seat premiums. Teams in the bottom half of the revenue mix receive subsidies from this pool. It is here that a solution could arise with increased cash transfers.

    Teams get to keep two-thirds of tickets sales as well as luxury suite, sponsorship and local media revenues (though at the same time these moneys are mostly counted toward calculation of the cap). When the collective-bargaining agreement was enacted in 1993, those areas were inconsequential, but today they have grown into a cash cow.

    Still, Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen, whose club moved into its new stadium two seasons ago, said of the non-shared local revenue, "I don't see the league as going and saying we are going to share that."

    The debate is in what participants describe as an informational stage. The NFL's Management Council, the league's labor negotiating arm, presented its report on the issue at the Philadelphia owners meeting in May, and the group continues to study the imbalance. It is not officially on the league's September meeting agenda, and all sources do not expect any real action, if any, to be taken until, at the earliest, next year.

    Print | Tags: Baseball, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Denver Broncos, Football, Green Bay Packers, MLB, New York Jets, NFL, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers
  • Tagliabue keeps his focus on the future

    Tagliabue says the NFL’s business is healthy but faces challenges.

    Sitting in his office on Park Avenue in New York City, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has a quiet confidence and easy demeanor while discussing the issues facing the league, which kicks off its 84th season Thursday evening in Washington, D.C. He openly acknowledges the league's continued success, but is quick to point to the changing economic and entertainment landscape and constant challenges that the league faces as it enters its 14th full season under his leadership. While Tagliabue works to keep the attention of today's consumers, he also balances a full agenda that includes the launch of the NFL Network, the future of NFL Europe, the prospects for a cold-weather Super Bowl and the expiration of the NFL Trust — too many issues to give the 62-year-old much time to look back.

    Tagliabue recently sat down with SportsBusiness Journal Executive Editor Abraham Madkour and NFL writer Daniel Kaplan at the league's headquarters in New York.

    SBJ: You are going into your 14th full season as commissioner. What is the state of the NFL's business?
    Tagliabue: Well, the fans seem to think it's healthy because they continue to have tremendous interest in our game and in our teams and in the postseason and the Super Bowl. So we would like to think it's healthy, but we also like to be realistic to know that everything that is healthy also has challenges. I think that is where we are.

    SBJ: What do you think those challenges are?
    Tagliabue: Well, I think the challenge starts with keeping the game as great as it's been, and that involves youth football, high school football, college football, NFL football. Part of that is keeping the collective-bargaining agreement in place with the mechanisms that are in there in terms of distributing talent in an equitable way. One of the challenges is to keep the public tuning in to NFL telecasts in a big way in a television universe where there are more and more channels, more and more alternatives for the viewer.

    SBJ: You mentioned TV. You were one of the few sports to brunt the cyclical trend of declining ratings in the past season. What do you have to do in the coming season to keep up the countercyclical effort?
    Tagliabue: Well, I think it starts with the game and the quality of the game and the intensity of the competition as we move into the late part of our season, the regular season as well as the postseason. I think it means being smart about how our season is structured. The combination of the preseason, the regular season and the postseason, the number of teams in the postseason, all of those things have an impact on fan interest. It also means being wise about when we play our games. Right now our games are focused on Sunday. It gives us an advantage in terms of the aggregation of all the games being a magnet for football fans, the one sport where you can set aside a day and see everything that is happening in terms of the competition with the exception of the Monday night game. We are focused on the weekend, and I think that is important. Moving some of the postseason games later in the day on Saturday in particular when there are more people at home and they are watching the games has been important. So looking to the future, we need to consider whether the balance we have between early games on Sunday, late games on Sunday, late games in prime time on Sunday and Monday, whether that's the right balance or whether there is a better balance.

    SBJ: What about the Monday night game? Viewership continues to go up as more people are watching TV, but the average Nielsen rating is consistently going down. Are you concerned about that and is there a way you can strengthen this important piece of programming?
    Tagliabue: Well, in absolute numbers, the ratings for everything is going down because you've gone from three channels to 400 channels in a lot of households. So if you divide the audience over 400 channels you're going to have a smaller audience than you did when you had one-third of the country watching one of three networks, the way television was in the '70s. "Monday Night Football" keeps coming up in the ratings in terms of where it ranks among prime-time programming. It's holding very well compared to the audiences for the other mega-shows that are out there for advertisers, so that gives us encouragement about the future. At the same token, we will look at whether there should be more than one game in both the Sunday night and the Monday night prime-time windows, because the quality of the game can be a factor in viewership. But we also have to recognize that in this multichannel universe, it's not going to be possible to get 50 percent of the audience, except maybe for the Super Bowl.

    SBJ: Could the NFL Network be a possible avenue for more games on Sunday night or Monday night? In addition, how have your media partners reacted to the creation of your own channel?
    Tagliabue: We don't see the NFL Network carrying live games. We think keeping the product strong for our network partners is the critical starting point. Right now the AFC package is very strong; CBS has done a great job in handling the AFC package. The NFC package has always had an historic edge because the NFC teams in the aggregate are in larger metropolitan markets and Fox has done a great job with that. The two Disney companies, ABC and ESPN, are doing an outstanding job with prime time. That's our goal is to keep the product there and not to dilute the product, and I think we are all convinced that the thing not to do is to slice your product ever thinner, because ultimately you end up marginalizing it.

    SBJ: Is there any concerns that your media partners have conveyed to you about the competition for ad dollars, for creative content, for viewership, to the creation of the NFL Network?
    Tagliabue: No, right now all of the networks have been very positive about the power of the NFL and about the strength of the advertising marketplace generally and also specifically to the NFL. Obviously if you look back at the economy, I think the data now shows that there was some softness in the economy before 9/11. There was obviously a big impact on television, television advertising spending after 9/11, but as we look at the 2003 season, the networks advise us about the strength of the market. It seems like it is very, very positive, which is a good omen as we are going forward.

    SBJ: How often are you talking to Steve Bornstein [NFL Network president] and are you still on schedule for the Nov. 4 launch?
    Tagliabue: Yes, Steve and I talk, if not every day, almost every day, and we are on schedule for Nov. 4. I see it [the NFL Network] as clearly complementary, and we have an opportunity to be complementary to our network partners. At least for two reasons. No. 1 is the size of our audience. More than 100 million watch our games on the weekends, but then, with the exception of ESPN, our other three network partners do not have heavy NFL programming in the ensuing weekdays, so I think there is a real opportunity there Monday through Saturday for the NFL Network. ... So, it will give our fans, both casual and avid, an opportunity to see the teams up close, to see what they do to get ready to play, but also to see who they are. We have 1,800 players in the league and most of them are tremendous leaders on the field and in the community and the network will give us a chance to let the fans have an insight on all that.

    SBJ: Commissioner, we don't know when you are going to retire, but say it was today. What would you say your legacy to the NFL would be?
    Tagliabue: Well, I think probably the most significant thing has been labor peace for hopefully two decades or more. More broadly, understanding the traditions and the structure of the league that have been established over decades that are critical and keeping those in place and strengthening those [in areas] which includes smart revenue sharing and then being willing to make change. Probably the biggest change that the league has made in my time as commissioner has been from the old player system to the current player system. It seems to be working; it has produced tremendous competition on the field, which has always been the first concern.

    SBJ: Some owners are grumbling about possible revenue disparity caused by new stadiums. What are your thoughts about this issue and would the league change its revenue-sharing formula to help those teams without new stadiums that are falling behind in this race?
    Tagliabue: I don't think revenue disparity comes from new stadiums. I think the revenue disparity comes from a lot of things. Stadiums, market size, disposable income in the community, other competition from other entertainment, including major league sports. You can have a great new stadium, and a lot of debt, because it was privately financed, and when you net out your revenue from your debt service, are you ... going to be one of the mega-revenue teams? On the other hand, you could have a publicly financed stadium in a small town and you could be at a revenue disadvantage because you don't have the major corporate presence, or you have an economy where people are being laid off. So, it's not stadiums alone. There are a lot of reasons for revenue disparity. We've adjusted some of our policies in recent years, and adopted new policies, and I'm sure we will continue to do that, to try to guarantee that there is an incentive at the team level to promote NFL football and promote your team. But at the same time the ability of all teams to compete for player talent within the framework of the collective-bargaining agreement, that's the critical fact.

    SBJ: Does that mean you would be willing to tweak the revenue-sharing formulas?
    Tagliabue: Absolutely. We've tweaked them many times in the last dozen years, and I'm sure we will continue doing that.

    SBJ: The L.A. market seems to be an issue where there is a difference of opinion of whether the NFL needs to be there. Why do you think it's so important that the NFL return to L.A.?
    Tagliabue: There are a lot of people in the Pacific Coast time zone and there are a lot of people in California, so that's one thing. Another thing is that football has a great tradition in Southern California. We were all reminded of that recently at the Hall of Fame when Marcus Allen was inducted. Here's a great player who played youth football, high school football, college football and NFL football in Southern California. That's part of the tradition. It includes people like Anthony Munoz. Anthony is important because Southern California and the Los Angeles area has a great Hispanic population that is interested in our game. So I think that we should be there with teams where we have fans, where our game is well supported, and where the diversity of America is clear, and Los Angeles is one such market.

    SBJ: So the television ratings impact, is that important to you? Or would you rather be there for the live in-game element and experience?
    Tagliabue: You can't separate the two. But you can't make decisions on the basis of television ratings alone. We are in a sport which is attractive to people both as a spectator sport and as a sport in which people want to participate, so we need to be in those areas where there are people who will participate and cheer for teams, and Los Angeles is such an area. But it's the whole Pacific Coast, it's not just Los Angeles, it's not just San Francisco. America is a big place and one-sixth of it, roughly one-sixth of it, happens to be in the Pacific time zone, I think, and so it's one part of a much broader fabric of American society, and the interest of the American public in sports.

    SBJ: Speaking many time zones away, what is the status of NFL Europe and do you see that continuing next season in its current form?
    Tagliabue: Well, I think it should continue because I think it's serving an important purpose. ... We are in a world that is ever smaller because of technology and specifically telecommunications. We are in a world that hopefully growing standards of living will enable more and more people to participate in a diverse way in different sports, and I think NFL Europe is one vehicle for exposing our game to people outside the United States. I think our relationship with the Canadian Football League, and with football in Mexico, is equally as important. I can see a day down the road when there could be competition among the league in Canada, the Canadian league, a Mexican football league and a European football league. That's the vision of where our sport could evolve, but you're never going to get there if you don't start with some baby steps in promoting the game in Europe. So when I think about Europe, I have to think in two levels. First, is the strategic vision for our game, and then tactical steps to move toward that strategic vision, and in that context, I think it's important.

    SBJ: What about the financial losses?
    Tagliabue: I think the financial losses have to be looked at and compared with the revenue and other costs. Every dollar you spend on one subject could theoretically be spent on another subject. But the cost of running Europe is modest compared to many of the other costs that we incur, and I think the payback from Europe is greater than some of the cost that our teams are incurring in a variety of areas. It's ... less than 1 percent of revenues, and it's less than 1 percent of player costs, so you have to judge every investment you make, in total, in terms of usage of those resources. When you do that, I think Europe is an exceptional investment. It's less than half a million per club.

    SBJ: There has been a public dispute in the papers here in New York between the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority and the owner of the New York Giants. How does that affect the ability of the Giants to get the 2008 Super Bowl, and if it impacts it negatively, does that doom the chances of a cold-weather Super Bowl that year?
    Tagliabue: I don't think it dooms the chance of a cold weather Super Bowl in 2008 because I think Washington is a strong candidate with an outstanding stadium, and having the game in the nation's capital could be very attractive, I would think. Those are the two cities we are considering, Washington and New York. It's certainly not good for New York's prospects because from day one everyone has understood that the quality of the stadium for the open-air Super Bowl in Northern cities would be a key factor, so we're still hopeful that dialogue can be resumed between the Giants and the sports and governmental authorities in New Jersey so that their Super Bowl bid can remain viable. If not, we will have to [revisit the issue in a few years].

    SBJ: Are you taking any role in that?
    Tagliabue: I'm having conversations with representatives of the state, and I'll try to continue to do so, as long as people think my participation might be constructive.

    SBJ: Are the two sides still talking, because you had mentioned resume talking.
    Tagliabue: Yes, I think they are still talking. They don't seem to be making too much progress, but sometimes progress comes when you least expect it.

    SBJ: At the Super Bowl this year in San Diego, there was a great amount of discussion on the next three Super Bowls being played in Houston, Jacksonville and Detroit, markets that may lack some of the appeal of New Orleans, San Diego and Miami. What's ahead for future sites for the game and in terms of the markets where this marquee game should be? Do you see it rotating as often to so many different cities?
    Tagliabue: I think so. I think Houston, for one, will be a great venue for the game. I think the stadium is one-of-a-kind, a unique, open-air, retractable-dome stadium. All of the feedback I have had from a wide range of groups that have an interest in attending the Super Bowl game are very positive about Houston, and so I don't have any concerns about any of the upcoming sites. And we will continue to bring the game back to places like Miami and New Orleans, others, and hopefully at some point we can get to Los Angeles, New York and Washington. So I think that as America has grown, there are a lot of places that can host the Super Bowl very well.

    SBJ: The NFL Trust expires in March 2004. Can you talk about the changing sponsorship model of the league and where you see teams having more inventory they control and certain categories controlled by the league?
    Tagliabue: Mostly it has to do with how the marketplace has evolved, and maybe most of all, the popularity of the NFL and the interest of sponsors in using NFL football as a vehicle for making a statement about their product and their brand. Stadiums are part of this. In the old days, teams were tenants and there were not opportunities to have sponsorship arrangements associated with stadiums, naming-rights arrangements, gate naming rights and so forth. So those opportunities now exist. Opportunities exist with radio and with preseason television and with other media. So, I think what we have done in the last two years provides a template in some areas to carry into other categories for the future. But I am certain that there are ideas that we have not even thought of yet that are also part of the future. We are going to be addressing a master agreement on all of these commercial opportunities, particularly in the retailing, sponsorship and related advertising areas at our league meetings in September and again in October, and again next March, so I think we can get a consensus moving forward.

    SBJ: There's another deadline in March of 2004, and that's the NFL's option to buy part of Reebok's On-Field. Do you perceive the NFL taking that option?
    Tagliabue: We have been having constant dialogue with Reebok, and it's turned out to be a really strong relationship of joint planning and joint creativity. But at this point it's really too early to know.

    SBJ: Can you update us on Malcolm Glazer's efforts to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers?
    Tagliabue: I haven't heard anything for quite a while from the Glazers. You know, we've told them that if they were going to structure some form of ownership within the family, it has to be independent of Malcolm Glazer and his resources, since he is the controlling owner of the Buccaneers. I really don't have any recent information that I could share with you.

    Print | Tags: ABC, CFL, ESPN, Football, Fox, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Giants, NFL, Nielsen Media Research, Reebok
  • The NFL and Los Angeles

    The 2003 NFL season marks the ninth consecutive year that the Los Angeles market has been without a franchise. As talk continues about bringing a team to the city, and about the merits of the city again becoming an NFL market, opinion surveys shed light on the current presence of the league in Los Angeles.

    Favorite team of L.A. fans
    Rank Team Pct. respondents
    1 Oakland Raiders 26.2%
    2 San Francisco 49ers 12.8%
    3 St. Louis Rams 7.4%
    4 Dallas Cowboys 7.3%
    5 Green Bay Packers 6.4%
    6 Pittsburgh Steelers 3.4%
    7 San Diego Chargers 2.8%
    8 Miami Dolphins 2.2%
    9 Denver Broncos 2.0%
    10 New York Giants 1.6%
    Note: Responses based on a survey of 761 avid NFL fans in Los Angeles between July 2002 and June 2003.
    Source: ESPN Sports Poll, a service of TNS Intersearch


    Print | Tags: Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Football, Green Bay Packers, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants, NFL, Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, LA Rams
  • TV ad sales show NFL’s still the king

    NFL advertising has outperformed market projections, commanding 8 percent to 9 percent rate increases and in some cases bursting into double-digit gains.

    Most buyers had predicted slightly lower price increases, and few expected inventory to be so scarce by Labor Day.

    All three broadcast networks that carry the NFL, as well as ESPN, have sold more than 90 percent of their regular-season inventory, media buyers and network officials say.

    ABC is commanding prices above $300,000 per commercial unit in "Monday Night Football," while Fox — which some buyers said got the highest increases of any network — has been pulling in more than $250,000 per unit. CBS, more steadfast than in years past in its drive for the highest possible pricing, is coming in about $250,000 per unit on average, buyers said.

    "In previous years there was some attrition that took place, but this year we've had a pretty low attrition rate, which means just about everybody is coming back and coming back with more money," said John Bogusz, senior vice president of sales at CBS Sports.

    Networks cited the financial services and men's grooming categories as big gainers, as well as prescription drugs, a development that one sales executive attributed to the aging of the baby-boomer generation and the NFL fan base along with it. Levitra, a competitor to Viagra and an official NFL sponsor, will make a major push through advertising on NFL games (see "Drug makers turn to NFL to challenge Viagra").

    The only category in which the networks felt a big drop-off was "malternatives," the new breed of alcoholic beverages that burst onto the market last year.

    CBS officials said the Super Bowl is strong, with about 75 percent of the commercial units already gobbled up and the most desirable ones selling for $2.2 million or more, a price that the last two networks to carry the game had sought but seldom received.

    CBS also has moved quickly to sell title rights to its Super Bowl pregame programming, starting at 11 a.m. with an hour-long show produced by sister network Nickelodeon. All but the 3-4 p.m. hour and 5-5:30 p.m. half-hour have been sold, and the network is in "active negotiations" regarding those blocks, Bogusz said.

    The league, which sells the halftime sponsorship directly, is close to a deal with AOL to replace AT&T Wireless as the halftime sponsor, sources said.

    In the more immediate future, the networks are nearly sold out of NFL inventory for September, a period that in some years has been a difficult sell. As of last week, ABC had just four units left for the final Monday night game of the month, and had sold out the first three, a network executive said.

    Although ABC was dealt a blow when Chrysler moved most of its NFL advertising money from Monday night to Sunday afternoons, the network reported strong spending from Ford behind the launch of its 2004 F-150 pickup truck, as well as heavy advertising on Monday night from Nissan and General Motors.

    In the revitalized financial services category, Lincoln Financial has signed on as title sponsor of the "Countdown to Kickoff," an amalgam of inventory that includes a plug on all shoulder programming leading up to the opening game on Thursday as well as the first Monday night game on Sept. 8, which — not coincidentally — will be at the brand-new Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

    Principal Financial and MassMutual also made significant Monday night buys.

    "We're in one of those lovely spots where we're deciding what we want to take," said Ed Erhardt, president of customer sales for ABC Sports and ESPN.

    While the sales mavens at the networks can always be counted on to put an optimistic spin on things, in this case buyers agree that the NFL market is the strongest it's been in several years, and the NFL represents one of the most sought-after types of programming in television.

    "There's something special and unique about it," said Jon Mandel, co-CEO and chief negotiator at the buying agency MediaCom. "The product has not become commoditized and you know what you're going to get. It's a clean telecast and it's something that isn't TiVo-able."

    Print | Tags: ABC, Daimler AG, ESPN, Football, Fox, NFL, Nickelodeon
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