NFL Invests In TV Product Despite Attendance Issues


Even as the NFL worries about fans not attending games because the high-definition broadcasts are so compelling, a top league executive said it remains committed to making the TV offering even more attractive.

“You don’t stop investing in the home experience,” said NFL Media COO Brian Rolapp.For one, he said it’s the “best and most efficient mechanism to build a fan base.”

As for that fan base, speaking Thursday at a Sports Business Journal event, Rolapp said the NFL is mindful that ticket prices are increasing, parking isn’t cheap and fighting traffic can be a drag and it is evaluating how to make attending games more appealing, including with the in-stadium experience. "We know we ask a lot from fans,” he said. “It’s a big investment to go to the games.”



Separately, Rolapp spoke about the league’s editorial approach to the NFL Network it owns. He said from the outset, it made a commitment to a large degree of independence, which was shown last year during the lockout as the network covered it as other news outlets did and had the head of the players’ union, DeMaurice Smith, and one of its leaders on.

"There was no deliberate attempt not to give them a voice,” he said. He said fans are “smart enough to know what is propaganda and what is news.” The network, however, does not veer into covering too much about, say, a general manager’s personal foibles.

“We’re not going to be TMZ or something of that nature,” he said. Major League Baseball executive vice president Tim Brosnan, who joined Rolapp on a panel at the SBJ conference, said the MLB Network took the same approach from the start, looking to create “a media company with independence” to “have credibility with the people we were hoping would watch.” Still, he said MLB Network doesn’t offer “60 Minutes”-type investigations: “I’m not going to be pollyanish and say we hit it as hard as we possibly can.”

Major League Baseball has not had a labor stoppage for the network to cover since it launched in 2009. At the NHL, devotion to impendence may not be so marked. The league is in the midst of a lockout and NHL COO John Collins said with the NHL Network and at we haven't really covered it from a news standpoint and we haven't used (the properties) as a bully pulpit” to offer the league's point of view. On Thursday, had a lead story about the labor dispute, but it was a brief, just-the-facts presentation. The MLB Network is moving toward its first negotiations on renewals of its affiliate agreements, which were for five years initially. The network is partly owned by many of the largest distributors.

Brosnan said the league might look to do combination deals for carriage of the network and the Extra Innings offering allowing people to watch out-of-market games, which could “help drive distribution.” Also on the panel was Fox Sports Media Group co-COO Eric Shanks, who said News Corp. is still deciding how to approach the potential of a general all-sports network, tabbed Fox Sports One.

Shanks also expressed hope that TV Everywhere-type opportunities will give programmers more leverage when negotiating with operators, but for now even the most likely entity to offer that, WatchESPN, isn’t persuading anyone to switch carriers.

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