There's nothing like a labor agreement to brighten things for the NFL.
"It's the foundation on which the league can build," CBS' John Madden said.
With players and owners on the same page, it's onward and upward.
One hitch, however, is television money. With the networks crying poor these days, that could be a problem when contract negotiations begin sometime after the Super Bowl.
"If we don't think we can make a profit in our next NFL arrangement, we won't be in it, period," Dick Ebersol, president of NBC Sports, said during the Sports Summit in Beverly Hills Wednesday.
"We will negotiate and force lower rights fees or we will get out, because nobody can afford this kind of money."
The current contract expires after the 1993 season, but does not include the 1994 Super Bowl. Determining which network will get it is the first order of business,
"The one thing we don't want is open bidding on the '94 Super Bowl," Ebersol said Tuesday. "Our hope is that they will just follow the natural rotation."
That means ABC would carry the next Super Bowl.
To increase television revenue in the past, the NFL first added one cable network, ESPN, and then another, TNT. Now, according to USA Today, HBO may be interested in a five- or six-game package for Thursday nights.
Another source of additional revenue, someday, is pay-per-view.
No, the Super Bowl isn't headed for pay-per-view, nor is anything else now being shown on free or basic-cable television. What is being talked about is supplemental pay-per-view.
However, said Val Pinchbeck, NFL vice president of broadcasting: "All the talk is coming from outside the NFL. No one within the NFL is talking about pay-per-view."
Still, supplemental pay-per-view is coming. There doesn't seem to be much doubt about that. When is the question.
"The first thing is to establish a pay-per-view system for satellite dish owners and restaurants," said Neil Austrian, president of the NFL.
What that means is the league will clamp down on people now getting signals for out-of-market games for free.
Then maybe the league will start looking into supplemental pay-per-view packages for cable television subscribers.
Some people close to the situation have suggested that the labor agreement should speed the process along. But the NFL has always taken a slow, cautious approach with regard to pay-per- view, and that is not changing.
"The labor agreement was a positive development for the league," said Greg Aiello, the NFL's director of communications, "but it is a separate matter from television.
"There is nothing new to report on pay-per-view. We will continue to look at it as a viable alternative, but we don't see it as a nirvana.
"The Olympic Triplecast was not successful, and college football pay-per-view was not very successful."
Scott Kurnitt, president of Showtime Entertainment Television (SET), the pay-per-view arm of the Showtime Network that distributed the ABC pay-per-view college football telecasts, said the college football experiment was successful, albeit on a small scale.
Kurnitt said all parties--SET, ABC, the schools and cable operators--made small profits on last season's college football pay-per-view venture, despite cheap buy rates. Kurnitt would not discuss those rates, but random surveys indicate they probably totaled less than 0.5% nationally.
The key factor was, unlike the Olympic Triplecast, the college football experiment was a low-budget project. Going in, everyone knew profits would be minimal, but then, in the worst case, so would losses.
Kurnitt said the schools liked the added income, but more important, they liked being able to provide game telecasts to alumni. However, a decision on whether pay-per-view will be back this year won't be made for at least a month or two.
Pro football is the only major sport never to have experimented with this form of television, even though most experts believe it's the one sport where pay-per-view would have the greatest success.
That's because, say, transplanted Cleveland Brown fans living in Los Angeles, either individually or in a group, might be willing to pay $19.95--or, better yet for them, $9.95--to see the Browns whenever they are not on free television.
Kurnitt, and others in his business, believe that a need for additional television revenue will bring pay-per-view to the NFL soon, possibly by 1994.
Kurnitt said the league probably will start by testing one or two markets, perhaps in '94, which would be the first year of the league's next television contract. "Los Angeles and New York would be the ideal markets," he said.
What's left is for the NFL, provided with a new opening created by the labor agreement, to get a move on.
There was a time when pay-per-view were considered dirty words, the fear being that major sporting events such as the Super Bowl would be taken off free television.