TFN, The Football Network launched in September, and next month the National Football League will kick off its own NFL Network. Meanwhile, College Sports Television, which debuted last spring, is expanding coverage of football as part of the collegiate competitions it covers.
Survival depends on how many homes each network can reach through cable and satellite distribution deals in a brutally competitive environment for new networks.
"Like entertainment, when there are so many networks out there competing for audiences, eventually you run out of new potential distribution outlets, and it becomes tougher for everybody to succeed," says Sam Sussman, director of national sports broadcast negotiations for Publicis Groupe's Starcom Worldwide, Chicago.
But the astronomical cost of NFL sponsorship and advertising during game telecasts on major networks-price tags that can reach into the double-digit millions-makes alternatives appealing, and Mr. Sussman says there's lots of interest from advertisers in more affordable sports options.
"I don't think these networks need to do big ratings to succeed. Because of fractionalization, I think they can get by with smaller numbers on digital and satellite tiers, and still deliver a targeted audience for a much lower price to advertisers," says Brad Adgate, senior VP-director of audience analysis for Horizon Media, New York.
The NFL Network vows to give fans "access they've never had before" to players on and off the field, from the practice season to the post-season, says Chris Fuller, VP-media sales. The network has lured sports commentators such as Sterling Sharpe and Rich Eisen.
The NFL Network already has a deal with DirecTV bringing it into 11.8 million homes, and many basic cable systems are opting for it. Charter advertisers include America Online, FedEx Corp., IBM Corp., and Bayer and GlaxoSmithKline's Levitra.