NFL owners wrap it up

The NFL owners wrapped up their annual meeting in quiet fashion, making the most news by deciding not to expand the playoffs. But before leaving Philly, NFL brass touched on a few topics that will impact the league and its fans in the future:<P>

You've heard of MTV, well how about NFLTV? Commissioner Paul Tagliabue talked about his long-term plan for an NFL Network.

"In the preseason, at least, the NFL Channel would be a place where you can see all the preseason games on a non-conflicting basis," Tagliabue said. "In other words, if there were a Jets game in New York or a Bears game in Chicago, the affiliate would still have that game exclusively on a live basis; the NFL Network would have it on a delayed basis. But the fan would be able to see all of the preseason games on some basis on the NFL Network.

"At the moment we don't have any expectation that it will involve the live broadcasting of games. Will it involve the re-broadcasting of games after they've been televised on another network? I don't know."

The issue is likely to be re-addressed in next spring.

Once seemingly far-fetched, the idea now seems like a natural. Sports programming saturates cable television. The NFL's status as the country's most popular professional league means football and its own cable network may be a match made in prograaming heaven.

"That's obviously a very important question facing all of sports," Tagliabue said. "One thing we do know is we have, by far, the strongest sports-television programming. That's shown by the fact that we have three broadcasting networks carrying our games in addition to ESPN.

"We have tremendous ratings. Our ratings keep improving relative to other programming as the television audience gets split over a larger and larger number of channels," he continued. "And we feel that we have a unique opportunity to continue to be a major presence on broadcast television with mega-audiences that only can be delivered through broadcast television. On the other side of the coin, ESPN game programming and shoulder programming has been well received. Most of the highest-rated cable programs are NFL Sunday night games. How we blend that in the future is something we're looking at."

Other topics up for discussion by the commissioner:

The nation's economy and it's impact of the league:

"It's a little hard to know. I would assume it has impacted everybody in sports in some way. How do you quantify it? It's difficult to do. Have teams been respectful of some increase in unemployment in a lot of cities with restrained ticket-price increases? Have businesses held back on spending? It's hard to know when you're trying to measure the absence of something rather than the presence of something. But I think our teams have tried to understand that the nation has been through a difficult period of time … and have taken that into account in the way they do business."

NFL Europe: "It's a little hard to know because when we last discussed it (in March), the nation was going to war with Iraq and the big issue was security. Happily, we have had very good fan support over there. We've had no security incidents. We've had good players over there. We didn't discuss it here. We will be discussing it in the summer and the fall in trying to assess whether the current structure of the league is the best way to continue with player development for NFL players and the fan development in Europe. Or is there some other model that, for example, might involve a broader participation by European athletes. The paralleling of that might be less participation by NFL-allocating players. At this point it's a lot of theories, but not a lot of concrete ideas."


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