Leaning back in a leather chair in his corner office at NFL
headquarters in New York City, Steve Bornstein has a smile as
wide as a football. The president of the new NFL Network, a
24-hour, seven-days-a-week channel that will be launched on Nov.
4 over DirectTV, Bornstein is grinning because, despite the glut
of options already available to viewers, he thinks the time is
right for this venture. "It's evolution," says Bornstein, who
spent 19 years at ESPN, the last nine as president until his
departure in 1999. "You can't look at the television industry in
the last 20 years and say this is not a smart idea." At the
outset the NFL Network will be available in 11.8 million
In developing the NFL Network over the last year, Bornstein has
created nine original shows and assembled a familiar cast of
on-air talent. A weeknight news show, NFL Total Access, will be
hosted by former SportsCenter anchor Rich Eisen. A Sunday program
that will wrap up the week's college football action and analyze
NFL prospects will be hosted by former ESPN anchor Bill Patrick.
A twice-a-week program about the sport's grass roots is the
province of another SportsCenter alum, Charley Steiner. And an
X's and O's show that breaks down upcoming games will be hosted
by Sunday NFL Countdown graduate Sterling Sharpe. Another show
will include telecasts of NFL Europe games.
While much of the original programming will cater to the
insatiable fantasy-league audience, the bulk of the hours will be
filled by the heralded archives of NFL Films. "We're talking
about footage of every play over the last 40 years," says
Some media observers say that Bornstein's mandate is not simply
to build a network that markets the league but also to use NFL TV
as an alternative broadcast outlet in future negotiations with
the major networks for the league's TV rights. "I suspect that
eventually league-owned networks will carry their games live,"
says HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg. "There's too much money
to be made."
Bornstein says that such a move is premature, but he did not
discount the notion that the NFL Network's presence will be a
factor when the league's multibillion-dollar television deals
with Fox, CBS, ABC and ESPN expire after the 2005 season. His
experience at ESPN will serve him well.
Bornstein, 51, arrived at ESPN as manager of programming in
January 1980, four months after the channel debuted. Five years
later the network was losing money steadily and was close to
folding until he helped change the business model from one that
relied solely on advertising revenue to a subscription-based
model that capitalized on ESPN's growing fan base. (Cable
operators were charged a per-household fee to carry the channel,
a fee that today is an average of $1.81 per month for each of the
86.5 million homes ESPN reaches.) As vice president of
programming and later chairman, Bornstein turned sober events
such as the NFL draft into all-day TV extravaganzas. He brought
live telecasts of the NFL, NHL and major league baseball to ESPN
and used creative production techniques to prove that NASCAR and
America's Cup races could make compelling TV. He also helped
establish sister networks ESPN2 and ESPN News.
Now Bornstein is channeling all his know-how into the programming
for a single sport. "We can prove that a single-concept network
can have a broad and rich appeal," he says. "It's only a matter
of time before someone caters to the 150 million underserved NFL
fans. It might as well be us."
COLOR PHOTO: NFL NETWORK (BORNSTEIN) THE KICKOFF Bornstein (inset) will mix old highlights with original programming.
B/W PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR [See caption above]
There's an NHL Network?
In addition to the NFL the three other major sports leagues
either have a TV network up and running or have one in
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL It reportedly hopes to launch a network in
time for the 2005 season, one year before its national TV
contract with Fox and ESPN expires.
NBA The 24-hour NBA TV, which debuted in 1999, is available in
more than 40 million U.S. homes and 10 million households abroad.
In 2003-04 the network will televise 95 live regular-season and
selected playoff games. NBA TV also televises WNBA games and
various news programs.
NHL Launched in 2001, the NHL Network is available in only
500,000 homes in Canada. The channel offers 24-hour programming
that includes replays of regular-season games and a daily
highlight and analysis show called NHL On the Fly.