MTV EXEC TAKES THE FIELD FOR NFL UNIT

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The National Football League wants the MTV generation-and has hired the music video network's president to help get it.

The NFL last week named MTV: Music Television President-Business Director Sara Levinson as president of its troubled marketing arm, NFL Properties.

Ms. Levinson, 43, starts her new duties Sept. 6. She was succeeded at MTV by Judy McGrath, who had been president-creative director.

The hiring was widely regarded within the sports marketing industry as in keeping with the NFL's aggressive effort to reach younger audiences.

But others saw it as indicative of the gradual merging of the entertainment and sports industries.

"Choosing Ms. Levinson reflects the importance in modern sports of an understanding of the entertainment business. The marketing endeavors of the NFL go beyond the actual game of football," said Rick Burton, VP at Clarion Performance Properties, a Greenwich, Conn.-based sports marketing company.

Ms. Levinson said her hiring has less to do with reaching Generation X than marketing a strong, identifiable name brand-much like MTV.

And just as she guided MTV into foreign markets like Asia and Latin America, she's expected to help build the NFL's rejuvenated World League, which makes its debut in Europe next spring.

A relative NFL outsider (she worked with NFL President Neil Austrian at Showtime/The Movie Channel in 1986), Ms. Levinson takes over the most powerful marketing division in professional sports, with sales of licensed merchandise expected to hit $3 billion this year. Advertising is handled in-house.

But she also takes over a company that has suffered through some big league troubles this year.

Ms. Levinson's predecessor, John Flood, was forced out after it was discovered he had made an investment in an NFL licensee that violated league rules. Several other NFL Properties executives later left amid allegations of ticket scalping and embezzlement.

"That's history," Ms. Levinson said. "It's no longer an issue, and we're going forward. I don't expect any residue or remnant [of past scandal] to be there when I start."

Her biggest challenge in making the switch from MTV to NFL? "The dress code," she said. "I don't see a lot of people wearing earrings and shorts at the NFL."

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