The NFL Channel

I have seen the ads for this move by the NFL, and wondered how much demand there is for an NFL channel. I hadn't thought about it this way, but it makes sense.

Case in point: On Nov. 4, the league will launch NFL Network, 24 hours of talk shows, highlight reels, and tidbits for pigskin junkies. With no regular-season games or even full-game classics of yesteryear, it hardly looks like a Nielsen ratings winner. So what's the strategy here? In 2005, when its $17.9 billion in TV contracts come up for renewal, the channel could give the NFL the clout it needs to keep TV execs — worried about the high cost of sports — from trying to get a price break.

"This is about promoting the NFL, sure, but it's also about leverage," says consultant Stephen J. Solomon, a former top ABC Sports executive. For the NFL, the game plan may go something like this: Get its channel carried on a big chunk of the nation's projected 90 million cable and satellite homes by 2005. If ESPN won't pay the NFL's price, Sunday night games would go to NFL Network. Or if CBS or Fox bargain too hard, the NFL could threaten to take away some of the games they air on Thursday and Friday nights. "By 2005, the NFL will have learned enough to show their own games," says sports biz professor Dennis Howard of the University of Oregon.

I've read in the past about how much money broadcasting companies usually lose on these sports contracts (though I'm not sure if the NFL was one of the money losing deals). I wonder though, how many cable channels will carry the NFL channel? If they don't show live games, will there be large enough consumer demand to get it on most cable systems? If it isn't on many cable systems, can the NFL really use it to bargain?