NBC Sports Maps Future Without the Big Leagues

Friday, January 31st, 2003

As NBC Sports Maps Future Without the Big Leagues points out, big-league sports broadcasts aren’t earning back the big-league fees they cost, and networks are turning to smaller sports:

Fed up with the rising costs of televising big sports, NBC has decided to go small. The network thinks its deal with the Arena Football League, a 16-year-old operation with teams in cities from Buffalo, N.Y., to Los Angeles, could be the model for a new fiscal sanity in sports TV.

Oddly, the article doesn’t bring up the XFL for a long, long time, until practically the end:

A big challenge has been avoiding comparisons with NBC’s last football venture, the sex-, violence- and bravado-filled flop of 2001, the XFL. NBC Sports executives concede that the XFL, a joint venture with World Wrestling Entertainment Inc., embarrassed the network. But it also taught NBC how not to promote an alternative football league.

At a production seminar last week in advance of the AFL debut, Mr. Ebersol told 60 staffers and freelancers that the public didn’t perceive the XFL as legitimate. By contrast, Mr. Ebersol said, arena football has been around a decade and a half. “There’s no need for hyping,” he said.

To that end, NBC is playing the AFL straight. Its promos prominently mention that the league is in “Season 17.” It has hired veteran announcers like Pat Haden and Al Trautwig, in contrast to former Minnesota governor and onetime professional wrestler Jesse Ventura, who worked XFL games. Says longtime NBC Sports director John Gonzalez, “We’re not going to have [cameramen] running out there in the middle of plays.” That happened in the XFL.

What they don’t mention is that the XFL still scored higher ratings than the NHL (which doesn’t get mentioned at all).

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