NBC still in Arena ballgame

Despite low ratings, sport profitable for net, league

NEW YORK — NBC will keep carrying a full season of Arena Football League games for another two years, through 2006, despite a barely visible 1.1 average rating for the first 14 telecasts of 2004.

But even with the small viewership, both NBC and the league are making a profit from broadcasting a total of 22 weekly Sunday-afternoon games, 17 regular season and five postseason.

Instead of pocketing a license fee from NBC, the league shares in the advertising revenues. NBC siphons off the first $12 million from advertisers each season to cover its production costs. The next $3 million tumble into the coffers of the league. NBC and the league divvy up any revenues above $15 million.

The 1.1 rating season to date is flat from the same period in 2003, the first year of the NBC/AFL deal. But NBC and the league say they’re not complaining because most sports are losing viewers each year. The climax of the 2004 season is the ArenaBowl XVIII scheduled for 4 p.m. on June 27.

David Baker, commissioner of the AFL, said that during the two years of the NBC deal, the league has added teams in five new markets and has experienced a 22% increase in attendance.