Time Warner Inc. may have passed on the $18.6 billion
television-rights contract the National Football League sold in January 1998, but the
company is still carrying four NFL games every week -- and not paying a dime for the
Before Turner Network Television was outbid by ESPN for the
NFL cable contract, the network's negotiations with the league included discussions
about distributing NFL games on CNN Airport Network to reach travelers, NFL senior vice
president of broadcasting Dennis Lewin said.
Turner and the NFL decided to continue with the plan
despite TNT losing its NFL contract, he added.
"Everyone saw it as a way to keep existing fans happy
and to attract new ones," Turner Private Networks senior vice president Deborah
CNN Airport's NFL contract, which is on a year-to-year
basis, gives the network the games free-of-charge. The NFL wanted to be fan-friendly,
Lewin explained, saying, "We didn't go into this with the goal of making money
off of it."
If selling advertising for NFL games on CNN Airport becomes
a more significant business, "we might at some point want to evaluate it," he
ABC, ESPN and CBS Corp. agreed to give CNN Airport NFL
feeds last year and this year, but Fox Broadcasting Co. refused, citing concerns about the
competition it would pose to its "Fox Sports Sky Box" sports bars.
Fox has Sky Box franchises in Los Angeles and North
Carolina, as well as three in Chicago, and it plans to open franchises in Phoenix and New
York's LaGuardia International Airport next year.
"I'm surprised that Fox has seen that as a
competitor, as opposed to an ally," Lewin said, explaining that CNN Airport would
provide a bigger reach to Fox's national advertisers.
CNN Airport sells the ABC, ESPN and CBS ad inventory slated
for the network's local affiliates. The network sells 13 to 14 units during CBS and
ABC games and 27 to 30 during ESPN games.