TSN deal gives NFL a real double hit

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:18 AM ET

Hockey Lives Here has become an oft-repeated promotional phrase at TSN.

The network's marketing gurus might have to come up with something new and all-encompassing for the gridiron game. Especially in the wake of news that TSN has sealed the deal on back-to-back nights of NFL game coverage for the next three years.

As previously reported in this space, TSN becomes the new Canadian home of Monday Night Football starting in 2006. ESPN is MNF's new home south of the border beginning next season, with NBC taking over the Sunday night package.

So TSN's deal for MNF is essentially an extension of the arrangement it's had with ESPN for the past 18 seasons. "It was a natural for us to continue with ESPN," said TSN president Phil King.

Keeping the Sunday night games took a little more thought and effort. NBC affiliates are available in a large percentage of Canadian homes, meaning an audience split for TSN. Plus there was bidding competition from several other networks, including Rogers Sportsnet and The Score.

In the end, TSN decided it was worth ponying up to extend a rather lengthy tradition. The network will reportedly pay the NFL $2 million US annually for the Sunday-Monday rights.

"We've been doing Sunday night NFL games since 1987," said King, who's confident TSN can maintain the majority of its audience. "There's a real history there, and it's become appointment viewing (for NFL fans) on Sunday nights."

NBC's schedule also figures to be more attractive than the old ESPN Sunday night slate. That's because, starting in 2006, the NFL is instituting late-season "flex scheduling," meaning the Sunday or Monday games can be changed to replace a weak prime-time matchup.

Needless to say, TSN plans to make good use of the Sunday game to promote its Monday contest.

TSN's NFL coverage goes well beyond the games. It'll continue to air ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown, and will use ESPN's Monday Night Countdown as a lead-in to that night's game. Sunday coverage will include NBC's 7 p.m. pre-game show.

Good news for widescreen owners: All the games and studio shows will be offered in high-definition format.

Ratings numbers certainly give TSN extra reason to be bullish on the NFL. The average audience so far is 374,000, a 47% jump over the 2000 season average (254,000).

"Football has become a real growth sport for us, with both the CFL and the NFL," said King. "We're thrilled we're going to have even more games now every year."


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