The National Football League has hired a heavyweight strategic adviser, former ESPN president Steve Bornstein, to help it negotiate a 2003 deal for the DirecTV Sunday Ticket out-of-market NFL games.
Bornstein will take on the fulltime role of senior adviser for TV, cable and satellite to Paul Tagliabue, commissioner of the NFL, and to Roger Goodell, executive VP and chief operating officer.
The next big decision the NFL will have to make is whether to offer its out-of-market games, now exclusive to DirecTV, to cable operators.
When the NFL wrote its DirecTV deal four years ago, cable operators didn’t have the channel capacity to offer their subscribers the full menu of out-of-market Sunday afternoon games.
But about 17 million digital-cable subscribers now have access to massive numbers of pay TV channels, a number that could grow to 40 million over the next five years. By contrast, DirecTV has about 11 million subscribers, a figure that would shoot up to more than 18 million if the government approves its merger with EchoStar.
If millions of cable subscribers between 2003 and 2006 bought a Sunday Ticket subscription for about $179 a year, Fox and CBS could suffer in the ratings, a prospect that wouldn’t sit kindly since Fox pays the NFL $550 million a year for the rights to Sunday afternoon National Football Conference games and CBS ponies up $500 million for American Football Conference Sunday afternoon contests.
The NFL would have to get the approval of Fox and CBS before bringing cable into the out-of-market mix. One compromise getting bruited about is that the NFL would share in the cable revenues with Fox and CBS to get their agreement.
Another issue Bornstein will get involved in deals with interactive cablecasts of the games, which would allow subscribers to choose their own camera angles during a live game or call up statistics at the click of button on the remote.
During his 10 years as president and CEO of ESPN (1990-99), Bornstein helped to turn it into the most lucrative network in all of basic cable. ESPN harvests close to $2 billion a year in license fees from cable operators, almost triple the total of Disney Channel, which is in second place overall. ESPN also leads the basic-cable pack in advertising revenues by more than $200 million a year, according to Kagan World Media.
In 1999, Bornstein became chairman of the Walt Disney Internet Group and in 2001 took over as president of ABC Television, where he served a year before resigning in May.