NBC Must See TV Money In Arena Football
" align=right border=0>GRAND RAPIDS — “Must see TV” is in the arena, or at least it will be next year.
NBC Sports announced last week it had reached an agreement with the Arena Football League to televise regular season and playoff games starting next year, with most games to be broadcast on Sunday afternoons.
The Peacock Network, owned by the General Electric Co., isn’t required to pay a rights fee to the 16-year-old league for its involvement and it holds the exclusive option to renew the contract on an annual basis. In addition, NBC will get an unspecified share of revenues from “the increasing values of AFL franchises.” One report had that figure as a 50-50 split after certain costs were recouped.
NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol said covering the AFL would cost his network 60 percent of what it does to televise an outdoor game. NBC lost its rights to broadcast NFL games a few years ago to CBS, which outbid NBC for coverage of the American Football Conference.
Grand Rapids Rampage owner Dan DeVos said the new television agreement would bring the league, the city and his product more recognition. He felt the attention would be similar to what his Rampage got last August when it won the Arena Bowl on ABC. But next year that national network coverage will be on a weekly, rather than a yearly, basis — as ABC only televised the league championship game.
“I think this really brings us up to another level of exposure and importance as a major sports product and sets the stage for the next 16 years of the league,” he said.
“The agreement goes on, at this point of time, for forever. There is no end date on it. NBC is committed for the next couple of years. After that, it’s an annual deal based on their discretion.”
NBC also has altered the league schedule. Instead of beginning the regular season in April and ending with the championship game in August, the AFL will kick off in early February next year and play its title tilt on June 22.
That means the AFL and the Rampage will go toe-to-toe with the American Hockey League and the Grand Rapids Griffins for ticketing and marketing dollars in 2003. But DeVos, a co-owner of the Griffins, told the Business Journal that wouldn’t be a problem as he reorganized the DP Fox Sports and Entertainment group last year, a move that created separate sales divisions for each franchise.
“We’re selling to a lot of different groups, different individuals and different sponsors. There clearly is some crossover, but we will market things separately. So, I don’t see that as a disadvantage at all,” he said. “I think it’s a big positive.”
DeVos added that the schedule shift could mean more revenue for the Rampage. With games starting in winter, following the NFL season, and being played throughout spring instead of summer, ticket sales and sponsorships could rise because more fans may attend games instead of heading to the lake.
Neither did DeVos think it would be difficult to secure game dates at Van Andel Arena for both franchises, as the Rampage need only eight during the regular season.
The NFL owners hold an option to buy up to 49.9 percent of the AFL, and that option expires at the end of this month. Owners will meet next week and likely vote on whether to exercise their option. It’s uncertain how the deal with NBC will affect that vote.
“I think it will get their attention. These are totally separate issues, not related to each other, but I think it just legitimizes the fact that others are now seeing the AFL as something to get behind,” said DeVos.
“I think the owners like the sport anyway because they took the option and there are so many NFL owners that have (an AFL) team or will have a team in the future. I think it’s another fact to consider, but I don’t think it will make a big difference one way or another,” he added.
Up to nine NHL owners are expected to hold AFL franchises over the next few years.
The AFL has grown financially. Just a few years ago, franchises were selling for about $500,000. Now these are going for around $12 million and that figure will be used by NBC to calculate the growth in value for its revenue-sharing deal.
NBC seems to be moving away from major sports and toward games that attract younger viewers. Olympic-type events like snowboarding and the Gravity Games cost the network less to televise, but give advertisers the audience they want. And NBC feels that the AFL fits that mold.
NBC reportedly lost between $40 million and $50 million last year in its partnership with Vince McMahon in the Xtreme Football League. The network pulled out of that deal after one season of dismal ratings for Saturday night games.
The AFL enters the final year of its broadcast agreement with ABC, ESPN and TNN in April. The league will not have a national cable TV deal next year, so franchises are free to negotiate with local outlets to broadcast games not scheduled on Sunday afternoons.
“Sunday afternoon is traditionally football time and people are used to that. And there is going to be constant exposure having a game every Sunday, a lot more awareness,” said DeVos. “I think the time slot is going to work well.”