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Tuesday, March 5
 
NBC, Arena League strike deal

By Darren Rovell
ESPN.com

NBC has found its replacement for the NBA: the Arena Football League.

Orlando Rage cheerleaders
Even provocative Orlando Rage cheerleaders couldn't keep the XFL in business for more than one year.
NBC, which will lose its broadcast rights to NBA games at the end of this season, reached an agreement with the indoor football league on Tuesday to televise regular-season and postseason games in 2003 and 2004. The deal will provide the network, which lost a reported $35 million on its coverage of the short-lived XFL last year, with at least 55 hours of programming.

The Arena League's current television agreement with ABC, ESPN and TNN expires at the end of the upcoming season.

NBC, which has televised NBA games since the 1990-91 season, will pay the Arena League no broadcast rights fee, according to both the network and league. As part of the deal, the league will share net revenues as the franchise rights fees for new teams increase under the terms of agreement.

Five years ago, the average AFL franchise sold for $400,000, according to AFL commissioner David Baker. This year, the Atlanta franchise sold for $12 million and another franchise is expected to sell for that amount, he said. Future sales of franchises for more than $12 million would be split between the league and the network, under the agreement.

"We look at this business deal as a wonderful first step to the business," NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said. "Not just for NBC, but as a way out of the losses and write-offs that have dominated our business so much over the last three or four years."

In 2003, the league will have 20 teams, including the Dallas Desperados, a Jerry Jones-owned team that is one of two new franchises that will debut this season. League officials say that despite the contraction of four teams in November -- the Houston ThunderBears, Florida Bobcats, Milwaukee Mustangs and Oklahoma Wranglers -- the AFL ownership group includes eight other NFL owners who have rights to Arena League teams. NFL owners can exercise an option to purchase between a 24.5 percent to 49.9 percent stake in the AFL by March 31.

Between the Arena League and arenafootball2, a developmental league that has teams in 34 smaller markets, league officials predict more than 3 million fans will watch the indoor league in 2002.

Games will be shown regionally on NBC affiliates on Sunday afternoons, while Saturday games can be broadcast locally by television outlets that sign deals with individual teams. The 2002 season will run from April to mid-August, but in order to accommodate the void of the network not having NBA programming, the league will move up its schedule by more than two months in 2003 and play its championship game, the Arena Bowl, on June 22.

In addition to the NBA, NBC Sports once had broadcasting rights to Major League Baseball and the NFL, which it lost in 1998. It currently has rights to the Olympics through 2008. NBC also televises Notre Dame football, NASCAR races, horse racing's Triple Crown series, two tennis Grand Slam events -- Wimbledon and the French Open -- and golf events that include the U.S. Open, Ryder Cup and The Players Championship.

Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.rovell@espn.com





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