NFL strike/lockout not such a big deal in smaller markets


Affiliates of NBC, CBS and Fox are waiting anxiously to see if the National Football League (NFL) and its players union come to agreement on a new contract. A threatened lockout by the team owners would leave stations without some of their highest rated programming, but one TV group owner who has stations with all three networks isn’t expecting much of a financial hit if the football season doesn’t kick off on schedule.

During the Gray Television quarterly conference call Wells Fargo Securities analyst Marci Ryvicker asked Gray President Bob Prather what the impact would be on his company if there is an NFL lockout.

“If the lockout happens…I think it’ll get settled before the season starts…but let’s assume it didn’t. Frankly Marci, NFL is a very important product for all the networks and for us, but, for example, a lot of the towns we’re in are not NFL cities. The NFL is not as important as it is in major cities where there’s a team in the town,” Prather explained.

“I’ll give you an example. Lexington, Kentucky, where we’ve got a strong CBS [affiliate]. When CBS lost the NFL years ago Lexington actually made more money showing old movies during that time on Sunday afternoon than they did with NFL football,” the group head recalled.

“Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s a great product. I think our stations need it and I don’t want to get rid of it. But I think it will have very little financial impact on us in the short run. I can’t imagine any scenario where the union and the league would miss many games or miss more than one or two if there was a lockout. There’s just too much money involved. They’re all making too much money. It’s not a situation like basketball had, where you’ve got combined losses of $400 million for the NBA teams,” Prather said, recalling the strike that delayed the 1998-’99 pro basketball season. “Virtually all of the NFL teams are profitable companies,” he noted.

Gray’s largest market where it owns a station is Knoxville, TN, WVLT-TV (CBS), DMA #59, which is well down-market from most cities with NFL franchises. It manages New Young Broadcasting’s stations in two of the smaller NFL cities. WKRN-TV Nashville, DMA #29, however, is an ABC affiliate and the Alphabet Network no longer has NFL play-by-play since “Monday Night Football” (MNF) moved to cable sister ESPN, although the station normally carries the ESPN telecast locally when the Titans are on MNF. But the NFL might be just a wee bit more important to WBAY-TV, the CBS affiliate in DMA #70, Green Bay, WI, whose hometown Packers are the reigning Super Bowl Champs.