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Game On? Not at NFL Network

September 12, 2004|From Associated Press

NEW YORK — Nothing draws television viewers like the NFL.

From coverage of the annual draft to regular-season games to the cultural phenomenon that is the Super Bowl, the NFL is a ratings powerhouse unmatched by any other sports or entertainment property.

Now, the fledgling NFL Network is betting the appetite for NFL news and analysis will attract viewers despite the fact that no game will be shown live on the channel.

"Any sport that appeals to 125, 135 million people a week has a pretty good base to operate on," said network president Steve Bornstein, whose previous lives were as CEO at ESPN and president of ABC Sports.

Of course, not all of those fans will be able to find the network on their cable systems. Heading into the opening weekend of the NFL season, the NFL Network was in about 22 million homes and available through various cable packages in about 22 million more.

Still, beyond the NFL's broad appeal, the network, which began broadcasting in November, has plenty going for it. One is the number of prospective viewers it reaches each time it advertises. The network will have a 30-second and a 10-second ad shown during each game televised by Fox, CBS and DirecTV, reaching what it hopes will be its core audience each time. Another positive is the access the network has to the NFL Films library, footage which for many years was restricted to only the documentaries produced by NFL Films.

And the network has been able to attract its share of recognizable on-air talent. Their lineup includes former star players Rod Woodson, Sterling Sharpe and Terrell Davis, along with former ESPN "SportsCenter" anchor Rich Eisen.

"Given the interest in football, an audience will come to these channels," said Neal Pilson, the former president of CBS Sports. "If you watch your costs and you have a promotional vehicle, which the NFL has, I think they can be successful."

The NFL is not the first league to have its own channel. The NBA already has its own network, which it uses to show regular-season games, and Major League Baseball has plans to launch one.

But each of those sports has games virtually every day during the season, so the new all-league networks have plenty of choices for live play-by-play. For the near future, the NFL Network will relay on highlights, news and analysis.

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