GRID-LOVING ADS LOOK TO NEW A FORMATION

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Organizers for the new A League say the "A" stands for Advertiser friendly and Advertiser driven, but the upstart football league is far from Advertiser ready.

Seeking to quell a major league blitz of erroneous information and uninformed speculation, A League head honcho Mike Lynn is out to set the record straight. But in the process, he's also raising doubts about the league's viability and sponsor appeal.

The ad industry was all abuzz last week about the proposed rival to the National Football League. The hype: 12 marketer-owned teams, named after their very own brands, populated by big-name players lured away from the NFL and garbed in logo-splashed uniforms.

The cost to advertisers, according to published reports, would be an unbelievably low $10 million over two years. And as for CBS-recently divorced from the NFL and now being wooed by this new football suitor-there would be no rights fee.

Not quite, said Mr. Lynn in an interview with Advertising Age.

At the moment, the A League consists of three men-Mr. Lynn, a former president of the NFL's Minnesota Vikings; Joe Bailey, former chief operating officer of the now defunct World League of American Football; and Jim Spence, a former senior VP at ABC Sports.

Their rather novel idea has piqued the curiosity of a broadcast network

and a half-dozen advertisers, including Anheuser-Busch Cos. and Federal Express Corp. But that's it.

Furthermore, said Mr. Lynn:

"Teams won't be named after corporations, and their names won't be plastered over the uniforms. Maybe a patch on the sleeve, but that's all. But the on-field signage and graphics will certainly let viewers know in a sizable way who owns the league."

Advertisers will own the league, but it won't be cheap. Advertisers will have to pay an initial fee of $500,000, which will support league administrative costs. In addition, the 12 advertisers will be asked to sponsor 3-plus hours of Sunday afternoon CBS broadcasts. But on top of that, each advertiser will have to foot the bills for its team.

True, teams will reap millions back from ticket sales, concessions, local radio rights and sponsorships, but a big chunk of that will have to pay for player salaries, which brings us to .*.*. CBS.

Mr. Lynn said the network will have to pay a rights fee, and there will be no revenue sharing. That money will be necessary to help pay for player salaries.

Mr. Lynn has promised CBS there will be teams in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, plus one in Texas and one in Florida. The A League would schedule games in those cities so that they don't go head-to-head with the NFL home teams.

CBS executives say it's unlikely that 12 advertisers, guaranteed category exclusivity, could absorb all the commercial time, and some inventory would be available to the general marketplace.

Another issue is the relationship between a sponsor's advertising commitments and CBS' rights fee. Will the rights fee be linked to rates advertisers will pay, or will there be separate negotiations?

Whoa, Mr. Lynn said, noting that his admittedly unpolished proposal isn't written in stone, and the fine print can be erased and rewritten depending on who wants to play and who doesn't.

Still, is the A League viable? History says no, evidenced in the past decade by the U.S. Football League and the World League. Both were springtime leagues with limited TV exposure and only a handful of quality players.

But Mr. Lynn said the answer is an unequivocal yes. His league will operate during the fall, "the football season," and that with the right sponsors, broadcast network and marquee players, viewers will tune in and even pay to see his product.

But media buyers were unanimous in their skepticism. Said Dan Rank, senior VP-director of national broadcast at DDB Needham Worldwide, New York: "I think the chances of its working are slim to none ... Advertisers can't develop their own programming; what makes them think they can develop their own football league?"

Sports marketing experts were not nearly as gloomy but still had doubts, particularly over the A League's direct competition with the NFL.

"Going head-to-head in the fall would be a mistake," said Frank Vuono, a former high-ranking NFL marketing executive and now president at Integrated Sports International, a sports marketing company in East Rutherford, N.J. "Why would viewers and fans watch a product that will be inferior to that on the other networks?"

Joe Mandese contributed to this story.

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