NFL Continues New Media Drive, Gets Sirius About Satellite Radio

The National Football League tossed a pass to the satellite radio industry, signing a deal with Sirius for a 24-hour network that will broadcast games, team-by-team reports, and audio from the league's fledgling NFL Network.

Beginning next fall, Sirius will carry local play-by-play broadcasts of regular season games, along with several preseason and playoff matches on what will be called "The NFL Radio Network," a stream available to Sirius satellite radio subscribers. Sirius will pay the NFL about $188 million in cash, $32 million in restricted stock in Sirius, and an opportunity to earn more, depending on the subscriber base and media opportunities for Sirius with the NFL. It's a seven-year deal.

For the NFL, it's an opportunity to move into an emerging technology and give fans an opportunity to listen to their local play-by-play announcers call the games. It will also boost content of the NFL Network, which launched in November on DirecTV.

"It's a wonderful way to serve our fans across the country," said Steve Bornstein, president and chief executive officer of the NFL Network, which is owned by the football league.



It means a lot more to Sirius, which has 200,000 subscribers and started 18 months later than its larger competitor in the field of consumer satellite radio, XM. Sirius' point of differentiation is its commercial-free radio streams and the wide range of news and sports programming. Sirius already carries live NBA and NHL games in a similar arrangement. Joe Clayton, president and chief executive officer of Sirius, said Tuesday afternoon that the ability to keep in touch with games on the road would be a tremendous asset to the satellite radio provider's audience.

Sirius' deal kicks off with the entire 2004 regular football season, along with wild card and divisional playoff games and a few preseason games. But in 2005, Sirius will carry the conference championships and the Super Bowl. Sirius will also be able to use the NFL shield and team logos.

"This is a comprehensive relationship that includes marketing relationships as well as programming content," Clayton said.

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday afternoon, Bornstein and Clayton didn't shy away from answering questions about whether the NFL-Sirius deal would provoke a dustup between the companies and the over-the-air radio industry. Bornstein said he felt the Sirius programming would complement local broadcasts, carrying the local signal in its entirety over Sirius, including national and local advertisements.

"We look at this as a win-win, for our displaced, out-of-market fans, and hopefully, extending the audience" of the local broadcast stations, he said.

Clayton emphasized the nationwide impact of the NFL programming.

"This is no different than what we're doing with the National Basketball Association or the National Hockey League," he said.

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