NLL Deal w/ NBC (E-Lacrosse editorial)

NLL Deal w/ NBC (E-Lacrosse editorial)

Postby Sonny on Sun Jan 30, 2005 9:04 pm


By Ted Montour

Wednesday January 19th, National Lacrosse League Commissioner Jim Jennings made it official --- the NLL had finalized an agreement with NBC Sports to televise, live on the national network, the 2005 All Star Game from Calgary, and the Champion's Cup final. Daily sports writers (in Canada at least) and fan forum faithful have since weighed in with their opinions, by no means unanimous, on the deal. As someone whose childhood television selection was three Canadian stations and three US networks from Buffalo, I feel qualified to offer my views on television coverage.

In 1998, the first year of the revamping NLL, there were no game broadcasts, daily print coverage was next to nothing, and the first post-MILL expansion team was the Ontario Raiders, playing out of the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton and financed by Chris Fritz and Russ Kline. Les Bartley and Johnny Mouradian, the helmsman and architect, respectively, of the champion Bandits squads, were running the team that lasted one season, missed a play-off spot by the slimmest of margins - the third or fourth tie-breaker - and was subsequently purchased by an ownership group assembled by Toronto Maple Leafs front office guru and former player agent Bill Watters. Mouradian, while inching along in Toronto's infamous rush hour traffic, was doing some free associating; St. Louis Blues, New Orleans Jazz, hmmm --- Toronto Rock [!!], and the NLL's first dynasty was born.

Watters and company bought time on Sportsnet, one of three Canadian cable TV sports networks (TSN and The Score being the other two), and set about selling advertising spots on the game broadcasts. This approach was successful to the point where, today, most of the original sponsors are still with the team, and, while The Score is the current Canadian League broadcaster, the Rock still have their own side deal with Sportsnet. Seven other clubs have since made some sort of local TV agreement; the only exceptions are Anaheim and, ironically, Buffalo.

One of those original sponsors is the Sun newspaper group, specifically the flagship Toronto Sun. This is why I was a little surprised to see the piece by Ty Pilson of the Calgary Sun, headlined NLL Pays NBC for Airtime, who, in the process of "breaking" the story, felt the need to point out that the League was paying for the air time and his editors felt that fact merited headline status. While he did go on to note that the NLL was doing this "as many other sporting events do", why make a point of it at all? This is a paper that should know that it has already worked, especially when the media helps a little by not headlining that detail?

So now that the cat is loudly out of the bag, the key questions focus on advertising and audience.

Q: How much, if any, (air)time and effort will NBC Sports devote to promoting the broadcasts?

Q: What involvement will NBC have in the sale of advertising for the broadcasts? Will, for example, any of NBC Sports' existing sponsors' spots be appearing in the NLL broadcasts?

Q: Who will handle production and select the broadcast team?

The lacrosse manufacturers, the Brine's, Cascade's, DeBeer's, Harrow's, MIL's, STX's and Warrior's of our world, are stretched thin when it comes to marketing (we know!). I would be pleasantly surprised if any of them could come up, on short months' notice, with the cash to buy US network time and producing network quality spots. Commissioner Jennings, when I asked about sponsors, cited Vonage ("The Broadband Phone Company"), recently signed by the League, as an example. A quick scan of the sponsors pages yields some other possibilities, Molson, Mazda, Black and Decker, Canon, Wendy's, Yahama, but presumably, any of these companies with a US network TV component to their North American advertising budget is already committed to series or events, unless their contract allows for flexibility in placement. Looks like it's time to work the lacrosse old boys' network.
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