SBJ/February 27 - March 5, 2006/This Weeks News

NFL draft may be high stepping to Radio City

The NFL’s cold war with Cablevision Systems Corp. appears to be melting, with the league in advanced discussions to stage its late-April draft in the historic Radio City Music Hall, which the cable operator manages.

The league moved last year’s draft to
the Javits Center, which was tight on space.
The NFL last year ended the draft’s 10-year run in the Theater at Madison Square Garden because of the battle between Cablevision and the New York Jets over the club’s proposed Manhattan stadium. Cablevision viewed the venue as competition to its own MSG and ran a vitriolic ad campaign against the Jets. New York state politicians later declined to provide state money for the project, effectively killing it.

The league, unhappy about the treatment directed at one of its clubs, held last year’s draft at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. NFL insiders, however, were not thrilled with the seating and space there.

“Radio City is among the possible sites for this year’s draft,” confirmed league spokesman Brian McCarthy, who declined further comment.

MSG operates Radio City under a long-term lease. A spokeswoman for the venue declined to comment.

One NFL executive, however, said there were few places in New York City other than Cablevision’s MSG Theater and Radio City that could comfortably stage the draft. Other venues are either too large or too small for the few thousand people who come to the draft, the executive said.

At the Javits Center last year, the NFL built a temporary theater, and it still was not large enough to contain all the fans who annually attend the draft. The excess were sent to a side room configured to resemble a large sports bar.

The league also could return to MSG, but it wants to upgrade the draft into even more of a spectacle, so Radio City would provide a thematic backdrop to that effort.

“It puts a different spin on it,” said Gary Stevenson, president of consultant OnSport. “MSG is sports; Radio City Music Hall is entertainment. They conjure up something a little different. As someone in sports, it makes you stop and say, ‘Wow! That is kind of cool. That is a neat idea.’”

The league also has been busy trying to woo cable operators to carry its NFL Network, which will broadcast eight games this coming season. Cablevision and Time Warner are the only major operators so far to decline to carry the channel.The draft is scheduled for April 29-30.

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