Field Reports1 Sep, 2003 By: Thomas Haire, Norm Goldring, Michael Kokernak Response
First Down for the Football Network
Multi-platform approach builds awareness for programmer.
BATON ROUGE, La. - The Football Network (TFN), founded in 1999, has been gearing up to provide around-the-clock programming on all things football. The network, while downplaying its lack of NFL coverage, fervently believes that many of this nation's 190 million football fans will tune in for everything from youth football to professional women's games, newsmagazine shows, documentaries and fantasy football reports.
"We'll provide more depth into the world of football than any other network," explains Jerry Solomon, president and CEO. "We plan to be the first portal for when fans want to know what is going on at any level."
Partly due to channel constraints the network, in addition to providing limited live coverage of the Division 1-AA college conferences, has taken a multimedia approach to building its brand name.
TFN recently signed a deal with SPIKE (formerly TNN) to air two separate half-hours of football programming on Saturday mornings this fall. "Fantasy Football 2003" will provide news and advice to millions of fantasy players, while "Football 101" will be a fast-paced magazine-style program devoted to all levels of the sport. TFN and SPIKE's sales forces will work together to sell the advertising time.
Esquire magazine has partnered with the network to create a special section - with a newsstand date of December 2003 - previewing college football's first Division 1-AA All-Star Game. Well-known football writers and personalities, including TFN spokesperson Pat Summerall, will write editorials. TFN will sell advertising space for the magazine section.
Since 1999, the network has used radio as a medium to build momentum for its push to TV. Through "Sports Byline USA," a syndicated radio show heard on more than 200 stations, the network's branded segment, "TFN's Football Focus," is heard by nearly 2.2 million listeners per week. The radio show expanded to three airings per week in July.
"We are bending over backwards for our potential sponsors," says Terry Kassel, senior vice president of sales and sponsorships. "Our staff has been coming up with creative packages to help maximize the effectiveness of advertisers' dollars."
The network's plans to secure cable and DBS distribution have been hampered by a crowded market for sports programming. The NFL has the rights to professional games and plans to launch the NFL Network on Nov. 4, initially on DirecTV. In addition, College Sports Television (CSTV) plans to air 18 NCAA Division 1-AA games during the fall.
TFN plans a "soft launch" in September by producing a slate of Atlantic 10 Conference football "Game of the Week" telecasts to air on Fox Sports New England. Initially, the network will air its branded programming only on the weekends into an expected 3 to 5 million cable homes. As distribution grows, the network will increase its programming schedule to full time.
Contingent upon accepting a tax benefit of approximately $100 million granted by the state of Louisiana, TFN is in the process of relocating to Baton Rouge. During its first year there, while its production facility is under construction, TFN will broadcast out of the facilities of the Louisiana Public Broadcasting Corp.
"We are exploding with the hiring of people, staffing up, and building out our interim facility," explains Solomon. "We expect to have 250 full-time people in the location when we are fully staffed in about 12 to 18 months."
Michael Kokernak is president of Boston-based Backchannelmedia Inc., which specializes in digital broadcast satellite, cable and TV distribution for home shopping shows and networks. The company also represents several television stations for paid-programming sales. Kokernak can be reached at (617) 728-3626 or via E-mail at mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org.
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