SBJ/November 17 - 23, 2003/This Weeks Issue
NFL may let clubs sell past 75-mile limit
Published November 17, 2003
The NFL is strongly considering letting its teams dramatically expand the geographic areas they can market to, including potentially pitting clubs against each other for fans.
Now, teams abide by a decades-old policy of restricting their marketing to a 75-mile radius around their home city. They cannot sign preseason TV, or radio, deals outside that 75-mile range. Nor can they market to fans outside that circle.
Under a new framework that emerged from the league's marketing meetings earlier this month in Chicago, the league would scrap the 75-mile rule and instead assign clubs designated market areas, or DMAs, which television has used since 1955 to define geographic regions.
"It's kind of how TV and radio works," said Jonathan Kraft, the New England Patriots' president. "You'd give a team a DMA they are allowed to market in. Maybe there would be two or three DMAs you would own, or have semi-exclusive access to," when team markets overlapped.
That likely would mean that under the new formula two clubs could compete against each other for fans in market areas bereft of NFL teams.
The use of DMAs still must be approved by the owners, and would likely need to be part of the renewal of the league's commercial business model, or Trust, which is expected to occur at the annual owners' meeting in late March. And the DMA strategy is still in the discussion stage.
But Kraft, and executives who were at the Chicago meeting, said it appeared likely the league would change the marketing rule. The point person at the NFL leading the discussions is Gary Gertzog, senior vice president, business affairs and general counsel. The league declined to comment.
Many clubs have complained about the artificial nature of the 75-mile rule, which was instituted in the 1960s to prevent clubs along the densely populated Eastern seaboard from competing with each other for fans.
Except perhaps for the two New York clubs, whose TV market area is enveloped within the 75 miles, DMAs would expand the number of possible fans most teams can reach.
The Patriots, Kraft said, can't market in Bangor, Maine, even though there is no NFL team in that state. Western teams, such as the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans, are particularly affected, and would have access to huge swaths of potential boosters if freed from the 75-mile shackles.
"There is a belief that teams should have some greater latitude in marketing their teams," said Texans chief sales and marketing officer Jamey Rootes. "The 75-mile definition may not work. It is probably not appropriate for today's environment."
Nielsen Media's Barbara Zidowsky said it would not be surprising if the NFL adopted DMAs, which Nielsen invented nearly five decades ago. A host of industries, such as packaged goods, switched from their own market territory definitions to DMAs, she said.
Today, Nielsen has 210 DMAs ranging from the No. 1, New York, with 7,376,330 TV households, or 6.804 percent of the United States, to the last — Glendive, Mont., with 4,968 TV households, or 0.005 percent of American TV households.
The NBA has the same 75-mile rule that the NFL currently uses, while the NHL market territory definition uses a 50-mile radius. Major League Baseball is the only league that does not place a strict mile limitation on its clubs, which instead can market and broadcast to defined counties.