American Football Ties Up TV Deal

10 November 2004

America's National Football League has touched down a multi-billion dollar TV deal.

Network broadcasters CBS and Fox plus satellite giant DirecTV are to pay $11.5bn (€8.8bn, £6.1bn) between them for the rights to televise games until the end of the 2011 season - a rise of 40% on the extant deals.

The two other companies that regularly show NFL games, ABC and ESPN, both say they will renegotiate contracts only after the end of the current season.

Despite falls in broadcast TV viewer numbers and a 10% drop in ratings for regular football games, the TV companies draw comfort that the NFL's decline is less marked than other kinds of programs.

At the heart of the packages bought by the broadcasters is the football season's grand finale, the Super Bowl, nearly always the most watched show of the year.

But all will want to avoid a repeat of this year's Super Bowl controversy when a half-time rock concert outraged the nation's moral minority after diva Janet Jackson's clothes malfunctioned and revealed her breast.

CBS, which broadcast the event, was fined $550,000 by the Federal Communications Commission for an "apparent violation of the broadcast indecency standard", a ruling now being contested in the courts by CBS's parent, Viacom.

The company argues the fines imposed by the FCC contravene the US Constitution's First Amendment which protects freedom of expression.

However, New York lawyer Martin Garbus says the Supreme Court is unlikely to overturn the current indecency rules (should the lawsuit get that far) though he notes: "All the TV networks want to be as free from regulation as they can be."

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff