Rampage Part Of NBC Deal

January 31, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — Although the sixth season for the Grand Rapids Rampage kicked off last Saturday in Buffalo, the local Arena Football League franchise will make a highly anticipated debut on Feb. 16.

That’s the date the club, owned by DP Fox Sports, makes its very first appearance on NBC-TV. The Rampage host New York in a regionally televised game originating from Van Andel Arena that Sunday afternoon.

The new television contract with NBC, which has the feel of a partnership, has raised business expectations in the Rampage front office. One hope is that the coverage NBC will give the league will raise the value of the franchises.

“I think that is part of it,” said Scott Gorsline, DP Fox COO. “Certainly there are a lot of peripheral benefits that will come along with that exposure, including things like increased attendance and the longevity of the league.”

The deal is a first for the sports business, and one that could become a standard business model. NBC is in line to get a slice of the league’s fiscal pie, as the network will share in the profits when an AFL franchise sells for more than $12 million.

Commissioner David Baker estimated that the value of AFL clubs has gone from about $500,000 five years ago to nearly $12 million in terms of team sales today.

“Both sides are motivated to succeed,” said Gorsline. “If NBC is successful in helping to promote this product, and make it what we all think it can be, then they will share in the franchise appreciation.”

The AFL and the network signed a four-year deal last year that gives NBC an option to renew the contract forever. NBC entered into the agreement after it decided to sever its lengthy tie with the National Basketball Association last season and after it was outbid for the rights to the National Football League by CBS four seasons ago.

The agreement with the AFL comes on the heels of the network’s decision last year to partner with wrestling entrepreneur Vince McMahon and create the XFL. Those Saturday night telecasts of a year ago followed the NFL season and reportedly cost NBC about $50 million. Network executives, however, never made the loss public.

Although NBC’s coverage of the AFL also started the week after the Super Bowl, this time the network shifted the broadcasts to a more suitable Sunday afternoon time slot. NBC plans to broadcast 70 games over 15 weeks of the regular season, along with playoffs and the Arena Bowl. Seven of those weeks will find the Rampage on NBC and local affiliate WOOD-TV8.

NBC didn’t commit any cash to the AFL contract, as it did with the XFL agreement. Instead of paying a rights fee, the network will split advertising revenue with the league after it deducts its production costs. Shared ticket and merchandising revenues are also reportedly part of the contract.

“They do expect that revenue will be shared this year,” said Gorsline.

The Associated Press reported that the network invested about $80 million in the XFL and the telecasts last year. NBC Sports hasn’t revealed its production costs for the AFL.

Gorsline said the AFL would share its portion of the revenue with the 16 franchises, after the league subtracts its expenses. He added that NBC was putting similar resources into its AFL telecasts that the network did for its NBA and NFL broadcasts. Males aged 18-49 are the network’s target demographic.

When the Rampage hoisted the Arena Bowl trophy two summers ago, the AFL season started on April 13 and concluded on Aug. 10, about three weeks before the NFL season started. Now the AFL begins a week after the NFL ends and Gorsline said the Rampage weren’t concerned about football burnout following a lengthy season.

In fact, he felt the change of seasons would bring more fans to the arena and keep more viewers in their living rooms. Gorsline said summer was a tough time to sell football here — as it may have been everywhere else, maybe even on TV.

Two years ago, ESPN, TNN and ABC paid $25 million for the AFL rights. But the playoffs on ESPN, which started in July, averaged less than 1 percent of cable households. And both title games the past two seasons, shown by ABC in August, only drew about 1 percent of the nation’s households.

“Football in the new season may not be something that people are accustomed to,” said Gorsline. “But I think it will be a nice transition because the NBC games are on Sunday, the same as the NFL, and hopefully those diehard football fans who are programmed to attend or watch games on Sundays will enjoy the change.”           

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