Game Plan for L.A. Football Rights

Broadcast bonanza: The possibility of football in L.A. again would bring boost to TV, radio stations.

By CLAUDIA PESCHIUTTA
Staff Reporter

It's still very early in the game, but the prospect of an NFL team moving to Los Angeles has local broadcasters seeing dollar signs.

Should Anschutz Entertainment Group succeed in luring one, or even two, National Football League teams to L.A. and overcome the many challenges in building a 64,000-seat stadium near Staples Center, several radio and television stations would likely vie for a piece of the pie. Even in this area, which lost two NFL teams in the last 10 years, sports broadcasts can mean big ratings and dollars.

"If the NFL came here, it would be huge and there's plenty of room for two teams," said Kurt Kretzschmar, executive producer at sports station KMPC-AM (1540). "We have more sports stations than any other city in the country. The fact that we have this without any football is amazing."

Sports talk and game broadcasts draw younger audiences that are attractive to advertisers. While broadcast rights don't come cheap KFWB-AM (980) will pay about $7 million over the course of its five-year deal with the Dodgers, starting in 2003 they provide hours of programming that's otherwise inexpensive to produce, including pre- and post-game shows. There are also many promotional and branding opportunities.

"There's an opportunity here to build a tremendous franchise with listeners and the community," said Mary Beth Garber, president of the Southern California Broadcasters Association. "Almost any station in town could look at (an NFL deal)."

Television rights for the regular season are negotiated between the NFL and the broadcast networks. The radio market, however, is wide open.

One company that might be especially aggressive in going after radio rights to a local NFL team is Clear Channel Communications Inc. The radio giant owns KXTA-AM (1150), which carries the Clippers, Dodgers and Angels games, and seven other L.A. stations.

"Clear Channel would not only welcome the NFL back to the region but also be willing to step up and support the team heavily in multiple creative and financial ways," Roy Laughlin, the company's L.A. area regional co-vice president, said in an e-mail response.

KXTA's ratings could use a boost from a football franchise. The station has failed to break into the top 25 in the market since its launch in 1998 and will lose the Dodgers after this season.

Other all-sports radio stations in the market include KSPN-AM (1110), broadcaster of Kings and Galaxy games, KMPC, which has Avengers arena football and USC basketball and football, and talk station KLAC-AM (570), which is home to Lakers broadcasts.

Easy to accommodate

A struggling station could pursue the local broadcast rights to an NFL team and "use that as a battering ram to take their station to the next level," said David Carter, principal at the Sports Business Group.

Football teams play 16 regular season and four pre-season games a season, making it less lucrative for a radio station than, say, baseball with a 162-game season. Still, it's much easier to accommodate. An NFL team would provide 20 game broadcasts a year, mostly on Sunday afternoons. To carry the Dodgers, KFWB will have to broadcast 162 regular season games, many of them on weeknights.

It's impossible to know at this point how much a local radio station would have to pay for the broadcast rights to an NFL team. When the Rams were in L.A., KMPC paid about $1.5 million a year for the broadcast rights, recalled Don Barrett, founder of local industry Web site LARadio.com. KMPC could not confirm the figure.

An L.A. team would be "a hot property," Barrett said. "The NFL has grown enormously since the Rams departed and in the first year or two, there would be so much interest in it that it would get top dollar."

Whatever radio station won the broadcast rights might benefit from the NFL's "blackout" rule, which prohibits local television stations from airing a home game if tickets are not sold out at least 72 hours before the kickoff something that happened often when the Raiders played in the cavernous Coliseum.

"In L.A., where there may or may not be an adequate fan base, you wonder if blackouts will be an issue," Carter said. He pointed out, however, that sponsors in other cities often buy up unsold tickets to avoid a blackout.

Which local TV station would have to deal with the blackout issue would depend on which team might come to L.A. There has been speculation about the San Diego Chargers in the American Football Conference making the move, but team officials declined last week to discuss the matter with AEG until mid-summer, according to the Associated Press.

Rights to the AFC games are held by CBS, so a Chargers franchise presumably would be broadcast on KCBS-TV (Channel 2). Fox has the rights to the National Football Conference, giving KTTV-TV (Channel 11) the nod if an NFC team comes to L.A.

Any competition for TV broadcast rights would focus on the pre-season games, which would be open to any local station. In recent years, KCBS has broadcast the Oakland Raiders pre-season games (a nod to that team's continued popularity in Los Angeles). Depending on the conference, KCBS or KTTV would offer team continuity in its pre-season and regular season broadcasts, but other stations might also make good homes for games.

KCAL-TV (Channel 9), owned by KCBS parent company Viacom Inc., might have a shot at the pre-season rights because the station is known for its local sports broadcasts. Also, KCAL, which operates as an independent, would find it easier to clear its schedule than network owned-and-operated KCBS.

"Sports is perhaps the last unique programming there is and it's uniquely local," said Patrick McClenehan, senior vice president and station manager of KCAL. He said the station definitely would be interested in carrying pre-season broadcasts.

The rights could go for a few hundred thousand dollars per game. When the Raiders were in L.A., KCBS paid between $200,000 and $300,000 per pre-season match, according to an industry source.

Rights fees have gotten so high that broadcasters have to consider more than just the advertising revenues the games might generate. "Value-added type things, like bringing in extra eyeballs" have to be taken into consideration, McClenehan said. A pre-season broadcaster could create ancillary programming, such as a weekly sports show, to stretch the value of the games.

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