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Mad Ave. cool to NBC, Turner football plan

NEW YORK — Industry pundits reacted with a wait-and-see attitude regarding NBC and Turner Broadcasting’s announcement Wednesday night that they “are moving forward toward the creation of a new professional football league.”

NBC and Turner released few details of their plans to compete with the NFL other than to say a complete announcement will come this fall.

Neal Pilson, president of CBS Sports from 1981 to 1994, gave the league a small chance to succeed and said the timing of this week’s announcement was an attempt to disrupt the networks’ NFL ad sales, which are going on now.

Sending a message

“Decisions are being made by advertisers about committing to long-term sponsorships,” said Pilson, who currently runs his own consulting firm. “They’re trying to send the message that they have a choice. They’re saying, ‘Don’t sign a five-year deal with them. Save room in your budget for us.’ ”

However, ad agency executives said this week’s announcement will not affect their NFL spending.

“Until they say who’s running the league and who are the players, nobody is going to have any interest,” said Jerry Solomon, a media buyer for SFM Media.

Sources said that NBC and Turner will launch their league in the summer of 2000 so as not to compete directly against the NFL season.

Low-budget league

Bob Gutkowski, president of the Marquee Group, said that NBC and Turner will likely assemble the league on a low budget that will not be able to afford major NFL stars. He estimated that a new pro football league would only draw 3.0 ratings.

“As long as they are comfortable that they can live with low ratings, they’ll go forward with it,” Gutkowski said.

While Pilson was at CBS, the network lost the rights to the NFL and briefly considered starting a competing football league. However, CBS found that advertisers would rather shift their money to other established sports than gamble on a new league.

“I’m convinced it won’t work,” said Pilson, who estimated NBC will have to spend $100 million-$200 million to start up the league. “I don’t sense a groundswell of interest in another professional football league.”

“It’s a very difficult task,” said Kay Koplovitz, chairman of USA Networks.

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