AFL on NBC
- This page is about the Arena Football League's AFL on NBC program that started in 2003. For NBC's coverage of the American Football League in the 1960s, see NFL on NBC.
Jim Foster, a promotions manager with the National Football League, conceived the idea of indoor football while watching an indoor Association Football match at Madison Square Garden in 1981. While at the game, he wrote his idea on a 9x12 envelope from his briefcase with sketches of the field and notes on gameplay. He presented the idea to a few friends at the NFL offices, where he received praise and encouragement for his concept. After solidifying the rules and business plan, supplemented with sketches by a professional artist, Foster presented his idea to various television networks. He reached an agreement with NBC for a "test game".
In 1998, CBS would take over the AFC rights from NBC, ending the network’s 38-year tenure with the NFL. CBS had previously lost the NFC rights to upstart network Fox, and was by that point struggling in the ratings. In 2000, NBC declined to renew its broadcast agreement with Major League Baseball. In 2002, it was additionally outbid by ESPN and ABC for the NBA's next broadcast deal, ending the league's twelve-year run on NBC.
During this era, NBC experimented with broadcasting emerging sports. In 2001, the network partnered with the World Wrestling Federation to establish the XFL—a new football league which introduced modified rules and debuted to tremendous, but short-lived fanfare, only lasting one season. In 2003, NBC obtained the broadcast rights (on a revenue sharing basis) and a minority interest in the Arena Football League. In conjunction with this, the league moved the beginning of the season from May to February (the week after the NFL's Super Bowl) and scheduled most of its games on Sunday instead of Friday or Saturday as it had in the past. The network televised weekly games on a regional basis, as well as the entire playoffs. The deal lasted four years, after which the league and NBC parted ways.
For the 2006 season only, the AFL added a national cable deal with OLN (now NBC Sports Network) for eleven weekly regular-season games and one wild card playoff game. However, the agreement was not renewed and was later picked up by ESPN, who also acquired a minority stake in the league's ownership.
The pre-game, halftime, and post-game studio show was anchored by Al Trautwig and analyst Glenn Parker since its inception. In 2003, Michael Irvin also provided studio analysis, but that role was subsequently filled with guest analysts, including Ray Bentley, Danny White, Tommy Maddox, and Kurt Warner.
Game commentary was provided by two major teams, with the lead consisting of play-by-play announcer Tom Hammond and analyst Pat Haden, with sideline reporter Lewis Johnson; this team was also NBC's lead team for its Notre Dame football coverage at the time. The other included Bob Papa (play-by-play), Ray Bentley (analyst) and Marty Snider (sideline reporter). NBC's NASCAR announcers Bill Weber and Allen Bestwick also called games, as did Alabama Crimson Tide football voice Eli Gold. Other broadcasters included color commentators Mike Pawlawski and Charles Davis, and sideline reporter Steve Wrigley.
- Come on feel the thunder.
- There's a rumble in the house!
The song was published by the Universal Music Group in a Bon Jovi CD called There's A Rumble In The House!
NBC's coverage received sharp criticism from some long time AFL fans and owners like Jon Bon Jovi. The complaints were mostly because NBC had severely cut back from their initial promotion of the AFL in 2003 and 2004, to barely promoting it at all in 2005 and 2006. NBC also tended to massively advertise select teams - the Philadelphia Soul, Chicago Rush, Colorado Crush, and the Dallas Desperados, while smaller market teams such as the Austin Wranglers, San Jose Sabercats, Grand Rapids Rampage and the now-relocated Buffalo Destroyers were massively underpromoted or left in the dark.
In 2006, due to the XX Winter Olympic Games, the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Daytona 500, NBC scaled back from weekly coverage to scattered coverage during the regular season, but an extensive playoff schedule ending with the 20th ArenaBowl. For that season, some games were moved to OLN, now known as NBC Sports Network (eleven regular-season games & one playoff game).
The 2006 ArenaBowl on NBC earned the network a considerably disappointing 0.7% of the U.S. households. The small audience for the 2006 ArenaBowl was the culmination of a season that earned NBC 0.9% of the U.S. households. In sharp comparison to the 2006 season, the first season of The AFL on NBC earned 1.1%.
The end of The AFL on NBC
On June 30, 2006, the Arena Football League and NBC Sports failed to reach an agreement to extend their broadcasting contract, thus effectively ending The AFL on NBC program. AFL commissioner David Baker said "NBC has been a great partner. We are forever grateful to them for exhibiting our game with the utmost respect and integrity. We wish them well, but are also excited to begin a new chapter that will continue our unprecedented growth."
NBC Sports president Ken Schanzer said "Unfortunately we were unable to reach an agreement. We've enjoyed our partnership with the Arena Football League. It's a great game with great people. We wish them all the best." In an interview with the New York Times, NBC spokesman Mike McCarley said, "We gave Arena Football our best effort, with top production and significant promotion, but the ratings never grew."
During an August 2006 segment of Larry King's interview with owner Jon Bon Jovi, a new deal was hinted at being in development, one superior to NBC's. In December 2006, a deal was struck with ABC/ESPN to broadcast AFL regular season and playoff games. ESPN also assumed partial ownership of the league itself.
- "A good idea...on paper". The Florida Times-Union. May 12, 2001. Retrieved 2009-08-06.
- "OLN and AFL announce national TV partnership" (Press release). Arena Football League. February 17, 2006. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
- "ESPN acquires minority stake, TV rights in AFL" (Press release). ESPN.com. December 20, 2006. Retrieved 2007-10-15.
- Quotes from Bon Jovi about lack of league promotion
- AFL on NBC Television Ratings
- ESPN - ESPN acquires minority stake, TV rights in AFL - ESPN
- Official website
- ArenaFan – AFL on NBC Nielsen Ratings
- NBC severes [sic] ties with Arena Football[dead link]
- NBC sues the AFL