Airport Net Catches Football


Time Warner Inc. may have passed on the $18.6 billiontelevision-rights contract the National Football League sold in January 1998, but thecompany is still carrying four NFL games every week -- and not paying a dime for thelucrative programming.

Before Turner Network Television was outbid by ESPN for theNFL cable contract, the network's negotiations with the league included discussionsabout distributing NFL games on CNN Airport Network to reach travelers, NFL senior vicepresident of broadcasting Dennis Lewin said.

Turner and the NFL decided to continue with the plandespite TNT losing its NFL contract, he added.

"Everyone saw it as a way to keep existing fans happyand to attract new ones," Turner Private Networks senior vice president DeborahCooper said.

CNN Airport's NFL contract, which is on a year-to-yearbasis, 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 moneyoff of it."

If selling advertising for NFL games on CNN Airport becomesa more significant business, "we might at some point want to evaluate it," headded.

ABC, ESPN and CBS Corp. agreed to give CNN Airport NFLfeeds last year and this year, but Fox Broadcasting Co. refused, citing concerns about thecompetition it would pose to its "Fox Sports Sky Box" sports bars.

Fox has Sky Box franchises in Los Angeles and NorthCarolina, as well as three in Chicago, and it plans to open franchises in Phoenix and NewYork's LaGuardia International Airport next year.

"I'm surprised that Fox has seen that as acompetitor, as opposed to an ally," Lewin said, explaining that CNN Airport wouldprovide a bigger reach to Fox's national advertisers.

CNN Airport sells the ABC, ESPN and CBS ad inventory slatedfor the network's local affiliates. The network sells 13 to 14 units during CBS andABC games and 27 to 30 during ESPN games.