SBJ/20090209/This Week's News

Spinning its dials: NFL still looking for 2009-10 radio partner

The NFL appears to be no closer to selling its radio rights for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 seasons than it was in late December, when it allowed an exclusive negotiating window with Westwood One to expire.

Various bidders held meetings in Tampa the week before the Super Bowl with the NFL’s senior vice president of broadcasting, Howard Katz, to go over the bids.

So far, the most serious bidders look to be:

Whose signal will the NFL call?
These three bidders are seen as having the best chance to win the NFL’s radio rights:
Incumbent is offering the most money
Wants a deal longer than two years
Offering alternative model with revenue-sharing component

WESTWOOD ONE: Westwood One still is offering the most money, by far, with a figure north of $20 million per year, according to sources familiar with the talks. Westwood One has offered to put some of its proposed rights fee into an escrow account, about 20 percent, sources said. But the league is concerned about the radio company’s troubled financial situation, which led to its de-listing from the New York Stock Exchange in November.

ESPN RADIO: ESPN Radio has told the league that it is only interested in a long-term deal and will not tender a bid on the two-year package. ESPN told the league that it would make an offer on a five-year package, but doesn’t believe it could recoup any rights fee investment in only two years. ESPN’s offer is believed to average around $12 million to $14 million per year.

SPORTING NEWS RADIO: Sporting News Radio (which is owned by American City Business Journals, parent company of SportsBusiness Journal) is offering an alternative model that includes a revenue-sharing component for the two-year package. Sporting News Radio believes its bid will give the NFL an option between a financially troubled broadcaster in Westwood One and a broadcaster that some in the league believe is becoming too powerful in ESPN.

Sports USA Radio also is in the mix, though it is considered a long shot.

The winning bidder will have to play catch-up to get its ad sales rolling for next season. The upfront selling period for next season should have started in October and run through March, multiple radio sources said. If a bidder is selected in the next two weeks, that would leave only a month to complete the upfront sales for next season.

Four weeks ago, the NFL was considering splitting up the package among several bidders, but the longer this process takes, the less likely that is to happen.

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