The original, and not necessarily lamented, XFL was indisputably an NBC family member, even as a stepchild. As a joint venture with WWE (then known as WWF), Dick Ebersol and Vince McMahon shared parentage, and the league that spawned “He Hate Me” was televised on NBC during its lone season in 2001.
Things are a lot murkier now. Ebersol’s son, Charlie, heads the Alliance of American Football; that’s the other new spring football league, which will begin play in February — a year before the XFL reboot. So where does the Peacock Network stand when it comes to those pro football startups?
“I expect we will be in business with one of them,” NBC Broadcasting and Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus told me during a recent on-stage interview at a Fairfield County Sports Commission event in Stamford, Conn., perhaps a mile from WWE headquarters. “We have windows on both cable and broadcast, and we have interesting ties to both.
“He [McMahon] has credibility in sports and entertainment, and a lot of money. The other league has interesting technology tied to it and they’ll be first mover.
“There are issues around each and they both have connections back to us. They’d both very much like to have a second [broadcast/media] partner. We are open to both. … If the football is real, it’s got a chance. We have a football checklist and a deal checklist: risk versus reward midterm/long-term. Short-term is immaterial in the startup phase.”
Other intriguing thoughts from Lazarus:
■ On whether Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google will ever compete for top broadcasting rights: “I certainly hope not. I hope they go away,” he said with a laugh. “They’ve all dabbled in it. My guess is they’d be dabbling a lot harder if it was driving any real results. Rights holders have to balance making their products more niche versus broadcast. It’s undeniable that the NFL and college football are about as big as it gets in this country when it comes to sports, and their dominant mode of distribution has been broadcast television.”
■ Why NFL ratings are up: “The NFL audience has stabilized. It’s not that new people are watching, but the people that are watching are watching for longer periods of time. … Established stars are playing and playing well, there are emerging stars, scoring is up and games are closer.”
■ Is the NFL’s national anthem kneeling controversy over? “I do think we’re past it. … It’s really not been the norm for us to show it [the national anthem] on a regular basis. The protests pushed us in a position of having to show it more often, because it was newsworthy. We have since gone back to our original strategy and show it on occasion.”
■ Legalized gambling’s impact on ratings: “It will have as much as a 10 percent increase at the beginning in states where gambling is legal. There are three opportunities there for us. Advertising is a real opportunity. If you partner with someone as an affiliate or you could be the house or partner with the house. … This is a place where [recent acquisition] Sky will be an interesting family member for us, since they still have strong ties with SkyBet. … We’re not jumping into anything and in this one, I believe fools rush in. It’s a bit of a Wild West now.”
■ Esports in the Olympics: “An esports game will be, one day, in the Olympics. I do believe that, but it will be a game that is centered around sport, not a shooter game or a violent game. It will take the right game or the right intellectual property for the IOC to consider making that part of the Games. They are interested in the genre, but it will have to live through Olympic ideals and values to make it in.”
■ TROPHY LIFE: With few exceptions, most notably the Stanley Cup and the America’s Cup, sports trophies and awards are remarkably similar and so markedly forgettable. With the presentation of the “John Schuerholz Longevity Award” to eight longtime GMs at the recent MLB GM meetings, Jeff Rutstein’s Opulent Luxuries is looking to change that. The company is scrapping the standard wood, metal, crystal and faux gold awards and trophies for Brazilian semi-precious gems like amethyst and phantom quartz, the materials from which the Schuerholz award is fashioned.
It’s a logical path for Rutstein. He’s the son of a globe-trekking geologist, and he spent a decade in sports marketing with the New Jersey Nets, U.S. Soccer and Octagon. Opulent Luxuries also has done awards for NFL ownership. It works through BDA and is looking to go b-to-c through a pilot program with Steiner Sports for some high-end pieces signed by Mariano Rivera.
■ COMINGS AND GOINGS: Ed Schauder is leaving Steiner Sports, where he’s been general counsel since February 2016, to join New York law firm Phillips Nizer as a partner. He’ll continue as outside counsel to Steiner. … John Griffin joins Navigate Research as senior vice president, business development, as that agency adds third-party sales to its corporate consulting capabilities. Griffin, a veteran of agencies including CSM, IEG and Clarion, will be based in New York.
Terry Lefton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.