Standing Up For NBC
One of the first complaints you hear often is the old complaint of "Waaaaaaahhh!!! They preempted the beginning of my game for some silly golf" (or auto racing, or some other live event that ran over that the person doesn't like but likely gets more than double the rating of the AFL game). I was born in 1973, but I am still very aware of the importance of the "Heidi Game" in 1968. To those too young to know or who have just forgotten, you can visit the link here ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heidi_Game) for the history of the game, but, in short, before that time, live events were frequently cut-off if they went over their "scheduled time window". Now, no matter how low rated the event is to begin with, if the event goes over, they'll preempt or delay the event or show after it. That INCLUDES the AFL as well. If an AFL game went into overtime and over it's three-hour window, they would be preempting the beginning of golf coverage after it (much to the dismay of fans at " GolfFan.com" I am sure).
So, that complaint is rendered false: this isn't a case of "NBC dissing the AFL". This is how sports are shown on TV. If you want to complain about the scheduling of the AFL game after another live event, thats a different story, but, weekend afternoons are common for multiple live events shown back to back to back.
Another complaint is that NBC didn't provide much promotion for the AFL. If the person is solely talking about the 2006 season, I will be in agreement. If a person is trying to make this their argument for the entire contract, that's when I'll get in their face.
NBC gets little credit from many AFL fans for what they tried to do with the AFL in 2003. In 2002, the AFL was a sport that was coming off of low rated TNN and ESPN2 games, and an ArenaBowl that just rated a 0.8 on ABC. Not exactly something that makes somebody who doesn't follow Arena Football go "Man, I need to get in on THAT broadcasting action!". Granted, the AFL gave NBC a sweethart of a deal to sign on, but, it was still a risk for NBC.
Yes, other broadcast networks have shown leagues other than the "big four" over the years. The XFL on NBC in 2001, WNBA on ABC & NBC, MLS on ABC and the WLAF/NFL Europe on ABC & Fox. None of those leagues however got the promotion (except for the XFL) and the in-game "amenities" that the AFL got from NBC in 2003. NBC went out of their way to present the AFL "out of the box" as something people should be caring about. Most key of these things was the "AFL on NBC Studio". None of these leagues had a "studio show", with people actually anylizing the players and the games. It's mostly just "show this game and run". NBC was attempting to say "You should care about what's going on AROUND the league as well".
In addition, NBC promoted the hell out of the league in 2003. Full AFL-action ads were run during their most popular shows at the time, including E.R. and The West Wing. "Pop up graphics" when they came back into shows like "Ed" promoting the league. Frequent mentions during their other sports events. Prominant placement of the AFL section on the NBCSports.com website. No, NBC wasn't the first place many sports fans went to get their "sports fix" in 2003, considering they had none of the big four leagues at the time, but, the AFL choose NBC, and NBC did everything they could that first season to try to drum up support.
Granted, over the course of the next three years, the AFL Studio show got less attention, the ads for games on NBC got fewer and fewer, and NBC did seem to care less and less. They didn't get the ratings they had hoped for in 2003 (they had promised advertisers a 1.5 average, and instead got a 1.1), and, instead of trying to keep up the same advertising level the next season, they starting using that space to promote things they thought could get more of a bump in ratings from the promotion. That was a strategic choice by NBC, and that can be debated if it would have helped the AFL in the long run. But, NBC decided that more promotion for the AFL wasn't going to raise the Nielsen ratings meter much, so, better to spend the time on other shows.
This and the complaints about other deals the AFL makes (deals with other marketers where the AFL gets some cash for advertising, but, the league and their fans doesn't seem to reap the potential benefits of the deals) all comes back to one place... the league itself. If Champs Sports is allowed to make it difficult for fans to find AFL merchendise in their stores, whose fault is that? Champs, for probably abiding by the rules of their agreement, which probably didn't force the stores, even in league markets, to promote much merchendise, or the AFL itself, for allowing that to be the deal? If the fans have a complaint about how a network treats the AFL, the contract the AFL made with them likely allowed for that treatment.
I don't know what the league will end up with for TV in the 2007 season. Other than a deal with ESPN where the league gets trenedous exposure and treatment from the ESPN/ABC family of media, the AFL WILL be worse off on a national scale if they go back to only having a second-tier cable network that only shows the game, sans a studio element, and without the national carriage that NBC had. Remember, despite NBC getting "poor ratings" for a broadcast network for the AFL games, that 0.9 average for AFL games was still about three times as good as the AFL ever got on TNN or ESPN2. To the AFL, it was still a vast improvement over what they'd had.
Of course, not every fan cares in the first place about the SPORT of Arena Football getting national attention. But, thats for another article.
Dave Carlson is the Technical Director of Arenafan Online. Dave graduated from Northcentral Technical College with a degree in Computer Information Systems, and has been a member of the Arena Football Internet community since 1991. He is currently a professional web programmer, and has a history in programming sports statistics. Dave is married and lives in Fort Wayne, IN.