Football League Prepares for Global Domination

Article excerpt

NEW YORK -- With National Football League training camps set to open this week, team owners are starting to return from such vacation hot spots as Europe, Latin America and the Hawaiian Islands.

Some would say that aside from all the mai tais and luaus, the true mission of their travel abroad was to scout out the future of the league.

As NFL players begin to sweat their way into shape for the upcoming season, football executives have been at work positioning the league to accomplish the goal of most every business in the world: the complete domination of its industry domestically and internationally.

"I'm very bullish on the NFL," said investment banker Elliott McCabe, a senior vice president at NationsBank Sports Finance Group, which helps arrange loans and investments for the NFL. "Their revenue growth is double-digit. They could be doing $5 billion in revenue over a five-to-seven year horizon."

McCabe has good reason for his optimism. In addition to $17.6 billion in television contracts, the league is assured peace with its union through 2003 and taxpayers are spending millions to build their teams new state-of-the-art stadiums.

"What they are driving is the NFL trademark name. And by expanding that internationally into Europe and Asia, it's giving them more opportunity to export entertainment... and their television product," McCabe said.

At $3.5 billion in annual revenue, the NFL is bigger than Interstate Bakeries, maker of Hostess snack cakes and Wonder Bread ($3.3 billion), and smaller than CBS ($5.4 billion).

Although the NFL is stronger than its ever been, there's still plenty of room to grow, which leaves most league executives optimistic about the 21st century.

"If you want to dream," said NFL President Neil Austrian, "20 years into our future, you could see 50 NFL teams located in Europe, Asia and throughout the world; stadiums with amenities that are as good as your own living room; televisions on the back of the seat in front of you, allowing you to watch every game in the league and see every replay before the referees... maybe even a (dolly) that delivers food to your seat; and an enormous television audience."

While such grandiose aspirations sound like pipe dreams, nothing seems out of reach for the ever-expanding NFL conglomerate.

The NFL owns all or part of most every niche competitor -- the Canadian Football League is the exception -- and the league and the players' union has been able to commit more than $100 million to foster growth among younger fans in the United States, Canada, Mexico and Japan.

"They just have to make sure the television product stays strong and they don't get greedy," said Frank Vuono, chief executive of Integrated Systems, a New York-based sports marketing firm. …

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