Thursday, May 5, 2011

9/11 raises stakes in NFL lockout

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The NFL's lockout is unlike any other sports labor dispute because of a true wild card: The 10th anniversary of 9/11 falls on the league's first regular-season Sunday.

Not that anybody really needed reminding, but the outpouring of emotion over the killing of Osama bin Laden showed 9/11 still is deeply lodged in the American psyche.

In September 2001, sports events including NFL games were touted as energizing communal events that brought Americans together. And NFL TV coverage, even without special anniversaries, has had tie-ins to the military — Fox's studio show has been staged alongside sailors on an aircraft carrier and troops in Afghanistan.

But fast-forward to this September 11, when the nation is riveted on 9/11 commemorations and remembrances of loss and bravery. The NFL, as it now slogs through injunctions and appeals, had better visualize this big picture: TV's talking heads rattling on about the silence in NFL stadiums because the various millionaires couldn't agree how to split their billions.

The NFL, which markets itself as an American icon, would look silly.

Forget that sports labor disputes often lead to cancelled games — owners figure missed paychecks can alter players' outlooks — and fans have learned to forgive and forget. This year's coincidence of dates is unique.

And it presents the NFL, and its TV networks, with a unique marketing opportunity, even if no one will put it that way publicly.

It so happens that two marquee NFL games on Sept. 11 will be in Washington — Giants at Redskins in Fox's late-afternoon game — and in New York when the Jets host the TV star Dallas Cowboys on NBC in prime time. All day, NFL TV coverage could weave in 9/11 tributes.

Or the NFL could be the day's national downer.

Spice rack: NBC's Al Michaels, in accepting a Sports Emmy Lifetime Achievement Award on Monday, recalled he was assigned to call 1980 Olympic hockey because he'd briefly called hockey before: "Otherwise, I'm on the biathlon. There weren't a lot of miracles out there." Hard to believe. … Thanks to Turner Sports' joint partnership to manage the NBA's digital outlets, becomes the first player's site to include video of his on-court NBA play. If you watch Barkley's athletic heyday, you never could have guessed he'd end up the golfer he is today. …Fox Soccer Channel rebrands its action Friday as SoccerNight in America and uses a logo not unlike the one for NBC's Football Night in America. Doesn't Hockey Night in Canada deserve royalties?

Pac-10 strikes TV deal: The latest TV sports domino to fall raises this question for NBC's Versus sports channel: Now what?

Versus, which will be renamed in coming months to reflect its integration with NBC under the overall Comcast umbrella, had a plum target while chasing Pacific-10 TV rights. It would have added some high-profile live games beyond the channel's NHL action and Mountain West games.

But, in a deal expected to be formally announced Wednesday, Fox and its FX cable channel and ESPN/ABC will get the Pac-10's top basketball and football games.

The 12-year deal, reports SportsBusiness Daily, will be worth about $250 million annually — quadrupling the league's current deals with Fox and ESPN. And, the conference will retain other sports action in relatively niche sports to start its own channel.

The Pac-10 is now more valuable partly because next year it adds two schools, Utah and Colorado, which will prompt the conference to this summer rename itself the Pac-12.

And Pac-10 rights went up for bid in a time of relative scarcity for big-time college football and basketball, given other power conferences, including the Big Ten and Southeastern, are already taken in long-term TV deals.

While getting Pac-10 rights presented a chance for Versus to immediately upgrade its event lineup, there's another obvious opportunity for the network coming next month: negotiations for the 2014 and 2016 Olympics, when a successful NBC bid would also provide Olympic TV tonnage for NBC Sports Buffet, or whatever new name Versus is given.


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