NEW YORK -- Next on the pro football front for NBC: Arena Football.
Trying to put the XFL flop behind them, NBC executives worked out a revenue-sharing deal with the Arena league on Tuesday to begin televising games in 2003.
Rights fees are not involved, and NBC receives a stake in the league valued at $20 million, according to industry sources close to the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The AFL, which begins its 16th season next month, will field 16 teams this season with plans to add six more next year. Also, with NBC out of the NFL and NBA business, the indoor league has agreed to move its usual spring-summer schedule to a winter-spring format in 2003.
While the XFL lasted all of one money-losing season, the AFL appears to be on much more solid financial ground, with nine NFL owners among the Arena franchise owners. The NFL has a marketing and officiating agreement with the league and also has an option to buy 49.9 percent of the AFL.
The option expires at the end of the month but is on the agenda for the NFL's winter meetings March 16-21 in Orlando, Fla.
NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol, who partnered with the World Wrestling Federation to start the XFL last winter, said he's more comfortable with his new deal.
"We are marrying up with an established league, a legitimate league and its 16 years of quality performance at the grass-roots level," Ebersol said. "Against the backdrop of the enormous falloff in all major sports viewership in the last 10 years, where the 18-to-34 males demographic has fallen off in large numbers, here all the numbers are positive."
NBC, which lost the NBA to ABC starting next year and lost the NFL in 1998, will televise four regional games in late-afternoon Sunday slots and carry the playoffs and the Arena Bowl.
"NBC is the ultimate fan-builder and I believe have some passionate people who believe what we believe," AFL commissioner David Baker said.
Among NFL owners with a stake in Arena Football are Jerry Jones (Dallas) and William Clay Ford Jr. (Detroit). Next year, John Elway and Broncos owner Pat Bowlen will bring a team to Denver and Saints owner Tom Benson will own the New Orleans team.
In 2004, Daniel Snyder (Washington), Wayne Weaver (Jacksonville) and Bud Adams (Nashville) plan to join the AFL.
Other crossover owners include Jerry Colangelo (Phoenix Suns/Arizona Diamondbacks) and Charles Wang (New York Islanders).
Arena Football also has a minor league, arenafootball2, which will play in 34 smaller markets this year. But af2 is not part of the NBC deal.
"We think it is a terrific, fast-paced game. Great for TV," NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer said. "It has an enormously strong fan base. It simply has been underexposed for a long time."
NBC will televise 15 AFL regular-season games beginning Feb. 2, 2003. The title game is scheduled for June 22, 2003.
"It's a positive step for the Arena league and for football," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. "But the decision on exercising our option will be made collectively by our club owners. "
This year, the Arena league runs from April 19-Aug. 18.
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