Arena football is 14 years old. Still, games have seldom exceeded a 1.0 rating on ESPN. But TNN's president thinks he has the next big thing in sports franchises nailed.
"We're sitting on a sport that just needs somebody to say, We're gonna touch this sport every day," said David Hall, president of CBS cable networks' TNN and Country Music Television.
TNN will carry 19 of the games, the ESPN retains five, and ABC will carry the championship playoff. In addition to cross-promos on the networks carrying games, Hall expects to buy local spots on USA, TBS, TNT and Comedy Central.
Add to that the Viacom flotilla of cable and digital networks, including MTV and VH1, and it would seem the AFL has an exposure bonanza, Hall figures. (Shortly after the closure of Viacom's acquisition of CBS, the CBS cable properties will be rolled into the Viacom's MTV Networks division.)
With arena football, Hall is looking for males 18-49, that elusive demo that advertisers are always trying to find, and the one that will be going the way of NASCAR. TNN lost its grip on NASCAR races last November when FOX, NBC and TBS laid out $400 million for television rights. Why the interest? NASCAR's 18-49 male audience is second only to the NFL's.
TNN, ABC and ESPN picked up AFL rights for $25 million.
"When I got into NASCAR, we were doing 2 ratings for the Winston Cup," Hall said. Now NASCAR races regularly do 5's and 6's. In Hall's estimation, there's no reason the AFL can't do the same thing, even with the dominance of the NFL and the emergence of the WWF's new Xtreme Football League. None of the leagues'seasons will overlap.
AFL games will be TNN's Thursday prime time centerpiece, beginning with the first game of the 2000 season on April 13. The AFL season runs through Aug. 10, about three weeks before the regular season of the National Football League. Unilever, New Line Cinema, Sears, Home Depot and Yellow Pages are among the major advertisers signed on.