Two major online publishers, America Online and CBS, will promote the National Football League and its teams on the Web through a $325 million cross-promotional agreement.
According to the multi-year deal, the two companies will facilitate a massive online media push from the NFL, in return for limited use of the NFL brand and promotions in NFL content. Other financial terms of the arrangement were not disclosed by the companies, although a source familiar with the negotiations confirmed the deal’s $325 million value.
Through the arrangement, the NFL Internet Network — which includes NFL.com and the 32 team sites — will be promoted extensively through the America Online service, including mentions on its welcome page and in its Sports, Kids and Teen content channels. NFL ads and promotions will also run on other America Online-owned Web sites and services, including Netscape, ICQ and CompuServe.
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based SportsLine.com, in which CBS owns a large stake, will produce and host NFL.com, in addition to hosting the individual teams’ sites.
The deal is something of a blow to ESPN.com — a unit of Disney-owned ABC — which had hosted the site, through a three year-old agreement with the NFL. NFL spokespeople did not return requests for comments on the shift, although earlier reports from internetnews.com suggest that the NFL declined to renew ESPN’s contract.
The NFL-SportsLine arrangement is markedly similar to the earlier agreement with ESPN, in that the cable network promised TV, radio and print (via ESPN Magazine) promotional support for NFL.com. But unlike the earlier arrangement, SportsLine will handle and sell ad space on the sites and in NFL streaming video. And Wednesday’s deal is also well above the $10 million ESPN is believed to have originally paid the NFL in 1998.
According to the NFL’s new partners, that high price tag is worth it.
“This is an incredibly powerful partnership that will certainly change the landscape of the new media business as it relates to sports,” said SportsLine.com founder and chief executive Michael Levy. “It is gratifying that the NFL, AOL and CBS have once again acknowledged SportsLine’s proven ability to successfully deliver on all fronts production, promotion and sales in particular — and we are proud to be a major part of this industry-shaping deal.”
Additionally, SportsLine.com also will display NFL Web promotions on its front page, while stats, scores and the Sunday GameDay application will be co-branded and linked to NFL.com.
Meanwhile, NFL Web sites will be promoted on CBS during in-game features (CBS controls broadcast rights to the NFL’s American Conference games) and elsewhere on CBS in regular ads or special promotions.
“As a broadcast partner of the NFL, it is very exciting to now be partners on the Internet and various other new media initiatives,” said Sean McManus, who is president of CBS Sports. “The opportunity for growth in these areas is virtually unlimited.”
The deal also includes joint online-offline promotions through non-Web properties owned by America Online’s parent, AOL Time Warner, and CBS parent Viacom, though the companies said these areas were still in discussion.
In return for the promotion, America Online will be recognized as the “Official ISP of the NFL,” and will receive mentions in NFL game telecasts on CBS, and on other NFL media and events — like NFL Films, NFL Sunday Ticket and the NFL Experience (an interactive theme park at the Super Bowl.)
Additionally, America Online will gain the right to offer its membership access to special NFL content, which the companies said would include video clips and sweepstakes.
For its part, SportsLine will become the NFL’s “Official Online Sports Partner,” and will receive rights to use a limited amount of NFL video and audio clips, as well as marks and logos in its own marketing efforts, which can include co-branded contests. SportsLine also will receive billing across NFL sites.
The companies also said they would explore unspecified, additional joint opportunities in “technology-based media,” which a source close to AOL said would likely be interactive television.
“While we have worked with all three organizations [AOL, CBS and SportsLine] on separate projects in the past, this new opportunity enables us to take advantage of the strengths of the combined partnership,” said NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.
Separately, SportsLine.com renewed its four-year-old content-sharing and cross-promotional arrangement with America Online.
That deal calls for SportsLine to pay AOL $1 million upfront, and $3 million in cash and stock over the next two years. In return, CBS.SportsLine.com will continue to be promoted across several AOL channels — including the main screen of AOL’s Sports Channel — and on affiliated sites. America Online also will continue using content produced by SportsLine.
Additionally, SportsLine.com will provide fantasy sports game products to America Online, including games produced in association with the NFL.
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