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AFL Media Watch

Dave Carlson
Tuesday February 4, 2003


Yes, the games were all pretty great Sunday (unless you’re a Rush fan, as I am). Yes, NBC did a great job producing the games, barring a few stat glitches early on. This column, however, will be focusing on how much affect the NBC coverage and promotion has on television news, newspaper coverage, and sports websites.

Will the league finally get the credit they deserve? Or will other media outlets still ignore the AFL?

The TV Rating

Before we get to the outside media coverage, how did the league do against their primary weekend opponents: CBS’s Bob Hope Golf and ABC’s NHL All Star Game? With only preliminary data in, here’s how it looks so far:

CBS – Golf: 3.1
ABC – NHL: 2.3
NBC – AFL: 2.2

Overall, the league did fairly well for its first weekend, especially as it almost tied one of the big four major league sports. I’ve often said that in five to six years, with the right promotion, the AFL could be on equal footing or higher with the NHL. And if the NHL goes on strike or lockout in two years, it could be as soon as two to three years. I believe hockey has hit its ceiling. Everyone knows what hockey is, and you’re either a fan or you’re not. Arena Football has been greatly underexposed, and with strong NBC promotions the AFL will succeed for one simple reason: Americans like football more than hockey. With this weekend’s result, I’m standing by that.

On the Tube

Since I live in Chicago, I can only give the Chicago perspective. Being the #3 market, it should be a good indicator of the national coverage.

Chicago has five primary networks with Sunday night news: CBS, NBC, ABC, Fox, and WGN Superstation. WGN, Fox and NBC actually have 20-30 minute, extended, Sunday night, sports highlight shows. As one would expect, NBC had the longest and most comprehensive coverage, with six minutes on the Rush game, including a lengthy clip from the post-game press conference from head coach Mike Hohensee. My only complaint would be that it came 20 minutes into the show, instead of closer to the beginning, and that’s a minor concern. At least in Chicago, the NBC local station is giving the AFL pro-level coverage.

After NBC, the other local stations gave pretty much the same levels of coverage: about 30-40 seconds at best for the Rush recap segment during their sports reports. On the plus side, WGN and ABC actually had Rush highlights before the NHL All-Star game recap. CBS and Fox, on the other hand, had the highlights buried further into the broadcast.

On the national angle, ESPN had highlights of three of the games, although they left out the ArenaBowl rematch. It was only about a minute total of highlights, but that’s a start. NBC’s syndicated “George Michael’s Sports Machine” also had some highlights halfway into the show, including a “Play of the Day.” Overall, I’d have to say that the NBC promotion has already gotten the league some additional exposure.

In Print

The Tribune had a short pre-season article of the Rush on Saturday, and they had a recap the next day of the team’s loss. There wereThe Daily Herald and the Sun-Times both printed pre-game and post-game articles.

The big question was how the kahuna of coverage, USA Today, would handle the games over the weekend. They came through with a nice little section about the weekend’s action, including a game photo. The league got a good mention in the TV Sports column as well.

On the Web

The various major sports website have had a mixed reaction to the AFL season beginning.

NBCSports.com obviously took the biggest leap, shoring up a full section on the AFL, including a main link on its navigation bar, and having plenty of original articles. Of course, with NBC’s diminished standing in major league sports coverage as of late, the number of people who go to NBCSports.com is probably lower than ESPN.com or even Sportsline.com.

ESPN.com also got its AFL site running before the season began. Add a Crush game summary in its NFL section and the TV highlights and it shows they have come a bit of a way from their previous opinion of the AFL. CNNSI.com had a very nice recap article on their main Pro Football page. They get a minus, though, for not having their AFL scoreboard working until sometime on Sunday. They are doing better than CBS Sportsline, which, while having the articles automatically spew into their main AFL page (which isn’t found anywhere on their site other than going to their index), they still haven’t replaced the Phantoms with the Crush on their teams page. Yahoo Sports barely even took the time to get the links from their personalized pages working. They have completely ignored getting their AFL area working for this season. And FoxSports.com only receives mention for having the hottest pictures of Anna Kournikova of any sports website. (They have never made an attempt at having an AFL section.)

Overall, one has to be amazed at what one afternoon on NBC can do for a league. But is it just being on NBC? I don’t think so. It helps to have NBC owning a stake in the league. They’ve promoted it to a larger extent than other properties they currently have been running, like downhill skiing or Pro Bull Riding, neither of which has done well in the ratings.

The AFL, despite those who continue to bash the league, is worthy of its increased awareness. In time, and with continued exposure, I can see it finally getting the legitimacy it has deserved for the last 16 seasons.


 
Dave Carlson is the Technical Director of Arenafan Online. Dave graduated 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 Indiana.
The opinions expressed in the article above are only those of the writer, and do not necessarily reflect the thoughts, opinions, or official stance of ArenaFan Online or its staff, or the Arena Football League, or any AFL or af2 teams.
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