OUT OF BOUNDS

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Let's go to the videotape and see what's wrong with this picture: We see CBS with three Sunday afternoon hours to fill every week in the fall because it's no longer carrying National Football League games. We see entrepreneurs ready to start another pro football league and put its games on CBS. Opposite the NFL games. How neat.

We see the big advertisers who now help sponsor all those NFL games owning this new league and its teams. In effect, they would eliminate the middleman, the NFL, and generate revenue for themselves from ticket sales, merchandise royalties, concessions, local radio rights and sponsorships. That ought to at least pay for their TV commercials as CBS covers their teams.

And the players? How good will they be? We see that, at best, they'll be about as good as the NFL expansion teams.

That's the picture being screened by a group of veteran sports and broadcasting executives who want to create what they're calling the A League; "A" as in Advertiser-friendly.

But is it really friendly? At a time when more and more companies are downsizing, returning to core business-the latest is Eastman Kodak Co., deciding to divest its pharmaceutical and household products divisions to concentrate on film and cameras-here comes an invitation for TV's sports advertisers to get into the football business through team and league ownership.

If they don't have enough trouble meeting business goals and planning for global growth, they now can get to draft players, hire coaches, negotiate with agents, deal with fans and media. In short, these beer and auto marketers can take on the highly popular NFL and its established team "brands" and antagonize sports fans across the country in the process.

This videotape shows only trouble ahead. Our advice to those marketers who might be tempted to add a pro football team to their product line: Hear the whistle? You don't need slo-mo to tell you this play is sure to take you out of bounds.

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