NFL Lockout Ruling Foreshadows Eventual Defeat for Owners

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 08:  National Football ...U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ordered an immediate end to the lockout Monday.  The NFL will certainly seek to stay this ruling.

Her ruling shouldn’t surprise anyone, and it may foreshadow an eventual victory for the players.


In her ruling, Judge Nelson wrote “The plaintiffs have made a strong showing that allowing the League to continue their ‘lockout’ is presently inflicting, and will continue to inflict, irreparable harm upon them, particularly when weighed against the lack of any real injury that would be imposed on the NFL by issuing the preliminary injunction.”

To paraphrase aspiring lawyer Vinnie Gambini from “My Cousin Vinnie” fame, Judge Nelson’s assessment is “dead-on balls accurate” because it is consistent with 3 undeniable economic truths in the NFL:

(1) The average NFL career is approximately 3.5 years.

(2) The median NFL salary for the 2010-11 season was approximately $770,000.

(3) The median NFL operating income is near $30 M.

Translation?  Judge Nelson recognizes that:

a)  Many NFL players have short careers, and the money they earn during these short careers is likely 50-75% of their overall lifetime earnings.

b) With most NFL teams earning double-digit operating incomes and with median franchise values at $1 B, there is no Greek tragedy that will suddenly emerge if the league were to re-open for business immediately.  To avoid the chaos everyone is talking about, simply agree to a one-year extension of the rules that governed the 2010-11 season, set September 1, 2011 as the deadline for a new CBA to take effect as of March 1, 2012, and move on from there.

She further ruled, “The public ramifications of this dispute exceed the abstract principles of the antitrust laws, as professional football involves many layers of tangible economic impact, ranging from broadcast revenues down to concessions sales…And, of course, the public interest represented by the fans of professional football—who have a strong investment in the 2011 season—is an intangible interest that weighs against the lockout. In short, this particular employment dispute is far from a purely private argument over compensation.”

In this passage, it’s clear Judge Nelson understands that the lockout could eventually impact everything from TV contracts, employment of full-time and seasonal staff, and ‘psychic income’.

Aside from the media and concessions revenues, it’s clear she recognizes the social and cultural importance of the sport.  Its power as a common identification symbol.  An entity which creates ‘psychic income’ that one doesn’t assign with your typical Fortune 500 company or major industry.


The players are the ones used to having a gameplan handed to them which they must learn and execute.  So it seems fitting that, to this point, the players’ legal gameplan seems to be working beautifully.

Recall that, with the expectation of getting locked out, the NFLPA had to decertify before the lock out was imposed so that they would be able to more expeditiously address the collective negotiations with owners in court.

Given that the courts – based on Judge David Doty’s precedent – were likely to be ‘pro-player’, decertification was the best strategy for players to follow.  They knew NFL owners were hell-bent to lock them out and blow-up the current economic structure of the NFL.

In the courts, it would appear that the owners may find very little sympathy for their arguments given the profitability of the league, most teams within the league, and the relative wealth position of the owners compared to the average player as cited above.

The owners best hope in these labor wars was for player fragmentation.  Keep the issue in the courts long enough and close enough to the beginning of the regular season that the ‘rank-and-file’ non-millionaire players start getting nervous and itching to strike an inferior deal.

Some rumored that this was in the midst of happening as recently as last week, though it appears now that these reports were overblown.

In late February it was U.S. District Judge David Doty (who has presided over cases involving the NFL, the NFL Players Association and the collective bargaining agreement for nearly two decades) who ruled that the NFL would not have complete access to $4 billion in television revenue during a lockout.

Strike 1 for the owners.

Now Judge Nelson has ruled for the lockout to be lifted.  Strike 2.

Though the owners have brilliant lawyers, access to an appeals process, and the hope of ‘player fragmentation’ on their side, perhaps it’s time for them to ‘play ball’ in order to avoid ‘Strike 3′.

In other words, realize that ’sunk costs’ are indeed ’sunk’ , suck up their overblown bellies and pride, and get back to some meaningful negotiations rather than playing a legal game of ”Doe-See-Doe”.

Unfortunately, as much as I’d like that to happen for all the reasons Judge Nelson so eloquently articulated, these negotiations are ’hard-ball’ not ’slow-pitch’.

For football fans, this process is going to feel like a late-night extra innings affair.  Like an NHL playoff multi-overtime game that seemingly has no end.

But if the players can avoid fragmentation, the rulings of Judges Doty and Nelson will ultimately pave the road to legal victory over the NFL owners.

By Patrick Rishe (Forbes)


Major League Baseball Takes Over Control of the Los Angeles Dodgers

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 31:  Frank McCourt, o...Frank McCourt (Image by Getty Images North America via @daylife)

Frank McCourt’s over-leveraging of his baseball team has finally caught up with him. Today Major League Baseball announced it has taken control of the financial operations of the Los Angeles Dodgers, one of the premier sports franchises in the world, from McCourt. My colleague, Nathan Vardi, and I wrote about the financial troubles of the team and McCourt last month.

The Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin was the first to report the news.

McCourt and his wife, Jamie–who are currently embroiled in a nasty divorce case–repeatedly used the Dodgers as collateral for lavish real estate spending. McCourt bought the team in 2004 for $430 million, borrowing all but $9 million of the purchase price. Court documents revealed that McCourt accumulated $459 million in debt from 2004-2009.

The spending continued, but the lending dried up. Despite two recent loans from cable partner Fox, McCourt still appeared to be in dire financial straits. Selig recently turned down a  proposed $200 million to McCourt loan from Fox.

Taking over the Dodgers–something the NBA recently did with the New Orleans Hornets–was a move MLB resisted, especially in the wake of the bankruptcy of the Texas Rangers and the financial troubles of the New York Mets.

But now, Selig’s hand has been apparently forced.

Forbes values the Dodgers at $800 million. My colleague , Mike Ozanian, says MLB should have no problem selling the team if forced to do so. The reason: its cable television rights, currently owned by Fox, which pays them over $30 million a year, are due to expire in 2013. The NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers recently landed a reported 20-year, $3 billion agreement with Time Warner Cable. The Dodgers could expect at least that much in a similar deal.

McCourt’s ownership run has been financially troubled from the start. In 1977 he founded the McCourt Co., a Boston-based commercial real estate firm that specialized in parking lots. Two years later he married his college sweetheart, Jamie Luskin. As McCourt’s business thrived, he hungered for a Major League Baseball team. In 2002 McCourt made an unsuccessful bid for the Boston Red Sox. A year later he looked over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Finally in 2004, when Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Entertainment Group wanted to get rid of the Los Angeles Dodgers, McCourt realized his dream.

He didn’t have to spend much of his own money to do it. The sale price for the ball club and its stadium in Chavez Ravine was $430 million. McCourt borrowed all but $9 million of the purchase price, an unusually large amount of financing. That sum included a $196 million loan from Fox, which used one of McCourt’s South Boston parking lots as collateral. (Fox later sold the lot for $205 million.)

Major League Baseball approved the deal, apparently believing McCourt would eventually work his way out from under the load. And under McCourt the Dodgers have had healthy returns. Last year revenues were an estimated $246 million (net of revenue sharing) and operating income was $32.8 million. FORBES estimates that the Dodgers’ value has nearly doubled to a current $800 million under his ownership. But the debt increased, too, and now stands at 13 times Ebitda, a problem that came to light in late 2009 when Jamie McCourt filed for divorce.

The central issue in the divorce is the Dodgers. Frank contends that the team is solely his. Jamie believes they are a shared asset. The trial is currently on break, and there is no new court date scheduled. It may not be taken up again until early next year, and how it will end is anyone’s guess. But what’s clear from the court documents is that Frank McCourt used the team as collateral to rack up $459 million in debt from 2004 to 2009.

Over that period McCourt took $108 million of the money in personal distributions and funneled it into the couple’s real estate purchases. It also “supported the couple’s very expensive lifestyle,” says David Boies, the superlawyer representing Jamie. The McCourts bought eight houses across the country, including a $28 million Malibu mansion. (A house in Cabo San Lucas was sold last year.) In 2006 McCourt turned two of the stadium’s parking lots into a separate company, then took a $60 million loan against it. He used $12 million of that on the team and took the rest of the money, court documents say. According to Raman Sain, a principal at accounting firm Holthouse Carlin & Van Trigt, who studied the McCourt’s legal documents on behalf of the Los Angeles Times, Frank McCourt borrowed $23 million against the team in 2008 and $8.5 million in 2009.

According to Sain, in 2009 every dollar in free cash the Dodgers earned “was used to make payments on the interest on the debt,” not the principal. (The Dodgers dispute this.) It doesn’t help that many of the Dodgers’ deferred player salaries, like the $20 million still owed to former outfielder Manny Ramirez, are coming due. The McCourts’ financial statements since 2009 have not been publicly available. Boies says the team has added “tens of millions of dollars” in debt since then, but not, apparently, as much as Frank McCourt would have liked. Though the Dodgers say they have paid back all debt accrued since 2009, in the last two years the team has been turned down for loans from Citibank and the founder of the TV infomercial company Guthy-Renker. A possible business venture with Chinese investors, which would have added some cash to the larder, fell through. Last year the Dodgers took an undisclosed cash advance from cable partner Fox. And in February the Dodgers requested a $200 million loan from Fox—using the team’s next four years of cable rights as collateral. Selig did not approve it.

And now he’s been forced to run the team.


Super Bowl Draws TV’s Biggest Audience Ever

The Green Bay Packers may have the ring, but Fox is Super Bowl XLV’s biggest winner.

The network’s Sunday evening telecast averaged 111 million viewers, the most-watched championship in the bowl’s 44-year history. Still more impressive, Green Bay’s 31-25 victory smashed the record held by last year’s Super Bowl, making it the most-watched telecast in U.S. history, according to the Nielsen Company.

Before the 2010 game lured 106.5 million viewers, the 1983 series finale of M*A*S*H had held the record for nearly three decades. (Worth noting: the country’s population has ballooned by almost a third during that time.)

Noteworthy, yes, but hardly surprising. In an increasingly fragmented TV landscape, live games are among few programming options actually adding viewers. Proof: NFL ratings were up on all five broadcast and cable networks that carried games this season. Take hard-hit NBC, where regular season games lured 21.4 million viewers, up about 10% from a year earlier. Thus far this season, the network’s Sunday Night Football franchise is the second most watched prime-time program behind only American Idol.

At first glance, this year’s match-up of the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Green Bay Packers would appear to fall short of must-see TV. Unlike a New York or Chicago entry, the teams play in media markets ranked 23rd and 70th, respectively, in the league. But what they lack in market size, they make up for in storied histories, hefty airtime and passionate nationwide fan-bases. Poor weather and a new stadium likely boosted viewership as well.

Sunday’s uptick couldn’t come soon enough for Fox, which suffered dismal ratings for the first half of the season. (Idol, too, has given the lineup an expected boost in recent weeks.) Proof: the network finished dead last in total viewers among the major networks, and tied with NBC for second place among the advertiser-beloved 18 to 49-year-old set. To blame were ratings duds Lone Star and Running Wilde, along with a disruptive major league baseball schedule. Update: With Sunday’s win, Fox moves into first place for the season in the all important 18-49 set.

The network used football’s biggest stage to promote not only older network series like House, Bones and Idol, all of which were plugged in spots throughout the game, but also newcomer The Chicago Code, a Shawn Ryan cop show set to debut Monday night. But the bigger beneficiary was a post-game airing of Glee, which has quickly become one of the network’s most valuable franchises. The musical dramedy charmed about 26.8 million with a football-themed episode, up more than 160% from its usual weekly audience of 10.1 million. (To be sure, CBS’ post-game selection of Undercover Boss drew a far more impressive audience of 38.6 million last year.)

Like Fox, several dozen advertisers capitalized on the opportunity to reach Super Bowl viewers, who famously and intently watch the game’s commercials. Among them: Chevrolet, Coca-Cola and Budweiser, which forked over up to $3 million –or some $100,000 per second– for the chance to connect. Newcomers like Groupon and Fox parent News Corp’s recently launched tablet newspaper The Daily are also poised to benefit from the continued buzz on the Web. (See all of Sunday’s ads here, and the buzz about them here.)

By:Lacey Rose (Forbes)

Why The NFL Needs To Rethink Its Innovation Game

It’s safe to say that few organizations are as successful as the National Football League. Its games draw more fans on average than any other professional sports league in the world. Its teams earn billions of dollars in revenue from television and radio broadcast rights. Twelve of the top 25 most viewed television programs in U.S. history were Super Bowls; more than 100 million (or one out of three Americans) watched Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7, 2010.

Still, the 2010 season brought a dark reminder that not every part of the NFL’s business model is functioning smoothly. In 2009, the NFL blacked out 22 games, a 144% rise from 2008. In 2010, 26 blackouts occurred. NFL attendance peaked back in 2007, when more than 17 million tickets were sold. Since then, attendance has dropped each year, down 2.4% in 2009 to 16.7 million tickets sold. In 2010 paid attendance was flat from 2009, but season ticket sales fell 5%.

The reasons are nothing if not obvious–the economy’s health, poor team performance, competition from HDTV. And if the causes are obvious, the responses have been nothing if not predictable: Focusing on their most profitable customers, teams are trying to beat HDTV at its own game by offering the TV experience at the stadium to its season ticket holders.

What is not so obvious is why this approach is inevitably doomed to fail and the opportunities the NFL is overlooking as a result. The league’s problem getting fans off the couch and into the stadium is a classic case of what Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen calls “disruptive innovation.”

That’s a process set in motion when someone invents an alternative to an established product or service that, in some respects, is not really as good, but is nevertheless in some way vastly easier, cheaper or more convenient. Because it’s not as good, it tends to draw off the least loyal customer at first, and so established, incumbent players tend to ignore it, as they continue to focus on their best and most profitable customers. But inevitably, the not-quite-good-enough offering becomes better and better, drawing off more and more customers. Typically, by the time the defenders recognize the threat, they are losing customers quickly.

In this case, NFL teams are the defending incumbents and the at-home, HDTV experience is the disruptor. Watching football on television is clearly far more convenient and infinitely less expensive than going to the game. Ten years ago, it was also vastly inferior to seeing the game live. But HDTV now creates a great home-viewing experience, and it’s no wonder that more and more fans would rather enjoy that experience than spend roughly $100 a person to sit high up in the stands, watching tiny players from a single vantage point, with no commentary, waiting through dead moments, sometimes in bad weather in an often family-unfriendly environment.

To be fair, football is not really a cut-and-dried case of disruptive innovation, since the savvy NFL has shared in–and profited mightily from–the revenues generated by the televised broadcasts. Still, it is not so savvy as to avoid the most common mistake incumbents make when confronted with disruption. When it comes to its efforts to fill those empty seats, the NFL is falling into all the classic traps–focusing on its most profitable customers and competing head-to-head with the disruptor on its own terms.

Just who are these consumer groups? Let’s take a look:

The Super Fan
The NFL’s most profitable customer is the season ticket holder, the guy–and it is almost always a guy–who loves the emotional high of “being there” and invests heavily in team gear, fantasy football and specialized TV channel subscriptions. Teams, in turn, invest heavily in keeping this fan happy and for good reason: He represents an up-front, long-term revenue commitment.

Like many organizations in many industries, however, teams are taking the wrong approach to understanding this customer. By installing multimillion-dollar screens (some carrying the same specialized TV channels) and handheld devices, they are trying to replicate the at-home experience in the stadium. Christensen, of Harvard, has piles of stats that show that when an incumbent tries to play the game in the same way as a disruptor, it’s rarely the incumbent who comes out on top. These fans are not coming to the stadium to get a better home experience. They’re coming to find something they can’t get at home–unique value that helps them achieve their deeper life motivations.

The Casual Fan
But let’s leave the super fan in his seat for a moment because that guy is still coming to the stadium. To fill those emptying seats, the NFL has to move beyond the question of what would make people who already love them love them more and focus on why casual fans and nonfans are increasingly reluctant to come out to the games. The Oakland Raiders, home to five of the 16 blackouts this season, have an estimated base of some 24,000 season ticket holders but a stadium that holds more than 60,000. Each Sunday, then, the Raiders need to attract not only the 24,000 super fans, but also more than 36,000 casual fans to fill the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum and prevent a blackout. Bigger stadiums and better technology won’t overcome the growing barriers that matter to these casual fan–the cost, the traffic, the lack of restrooms and rowdy fans.

To find out what will, NFL teams have to take a broader view of those people’s lives and consider what problems and needs they might have (or, as Professor Christensen thinks of it, “what jobs these people have to do”) that could be fulfilled by going to see a football game. With this so-called jobs-to-be-done approach, NFL teams can not only stem the stadium exodus, but win the hearts and wallets of super fans, casual fans and nonfans alike.

A Winning Strategy
Rather than segment individuals according to gender, age, income or other traditional demographic category, a jobs-based approach, logically enough, groups people according to the jobs they need to do. For example:

–“Convince my family to attend a game.”

–“Engage my spouse in the game.”

–“Feel like I am helping the team win.”

–“Feel like I have access that others do not.”

–“Demonstrate that I am a super fan.”

–“Keep others from knowing that I am just a casual fan.”

When looked at in this light, it’s easier to see that lots of different people have lots of different jobs they need to do (and, in fact, the same person might have more than one job). Consider, for instance, the spouse who wants to share the super fan’s interests but doesn’t know enough about the finer points of game or its players to follow along or become enthusiastic. Or the family decision-maker (perhaps the same person as the spouse in a different circumstance) who’s seeking to “spend time with family,” but concerned about spending too much money and worried about bringing kids to a probably-not-family-friendly stadium environment. Or the super fan, who wants to feel as connected as possible to the team and show others the strength of his/her passion. Or the part-time fan, who only attends a few games a year, but wants to feel like a super fan and convey to others a higher-than-actual level of commitment to the team.

Grouping individuals by the jobs they need done immediately suggests actions NFL teams could take to fulfill those jobs, suggesting ways to attract people’s business that grouping them merely by age, gender or the like could never do. Some ideas for these segments include:

*Creating more family-friendly experiences through family-only seating, parking and concessions areas.

*Developing special online publications featuring novice-level explanations of routes and strategies and stories about players’ personal interests and hobbies or workout routines.

*Establishing a service that would give fans a personalized recap of game action.

*Offering interactive phone applications and games through which fans can attain increasing levels of social networking status by demonstrating their knowledge and commitment to the team.

*Creating an immersive, seat-shaking, “In the Action” section in the stadium to make fans feel like part of the team.

The Two-Minute Warning
Even the most successful enterprises must continue to innovate, identify ways to improve customer engagement and grow revenue. The “at-home experience” will keep on improving: 3-D video, immersive audio, multiple data streams and expanded interactivity will make the couch increasingly competitive with a hard, cold stadium seat. This is true not only for the NFL but for basketball, Nascar and other sports franchises.

Particularly in a time when owners and players are looking for ways to generate new sources of revenue, NFL teams should follow the approach that has created significant value in many other industries. Get to the root of customers’ problems, think more broadly about what motivates not only their most, but their least, loyal customers, develop innovative solutions to solve the fundamental problems within those segments, and grow the revenue opportunity for all involved.

By: Alex Slawsby and Ned Calder (Forbes)

More Numbers Show Labor Issue in NFL Far From Cut and Dry

Early this week, I published data in an FAQ format showing that while owners should want to negotiate over matters with the league’s players, going to the mat and locking them out seems unwarranted (see Numbers Show NFL’s ‘Economic Realities’ for a Lockout, Unwarranted).

The point being, the economic outlook for the league is far from abysmal. Revenues are growing, television deals with astronomical amounts associated to them continue to be reached, viewership is at an all-time high, and franchise values continue to increase.

It’s hardly the sign of a “distressed” industry.

Here’s more info, some of which shows that the gap between the amount owners are taking in compared to what the revenues are after taking their cut off the top is widening.

How much is the NFL claiming in losses?

The claim by the league is that player costs have outpaced revenue growth and owners’ cash flow declined by $200 million.  There’s some problems with this. Unless costs skyrocketed, player costs in the capped system are tied to revenues. It’s possible that owners are having to put more into stadium development going forward due to the tightening credit market, and difficulties in having the public help foot large portions of the costs, but tying that aspect to the players seems like having a corporation that like McDonalds, asking those working the register to help pay for new franchises. The NFL has seen incredible revenue growth in the chilliest of economies. Asking players to take a cut has to be built on a bit more.

OK, how do the owners show that they’re on the losing end of the deal?

The league has been asked repeatedly to release financial information backing their claims. They have refused, which is, of course, a bit fishy. But, there are ways to make a case and still not give the players and media the keys to the store. Instead of using nothing but toothless rhetoric – calling numbers “voodoo economics”. On Tuesday, that got ramped up further when Greg Aiello,  the NFL’s Senior Vice President of Public Relations, wrote on ESPN:

The NFL players’ union says, “The players haven’t asked for anything more and literally don’t want anything more. They have simply asked to play under the existing agreement.”

That ought to tell you something. If a collective bargaining agreement particularly favors one side, that side naturally won’t want to change anything. That’s how the players saw it in the ’70s and ’80s. The players believed the system favored the teams because there was no free agency. The players went on strike several times and then to court to change it.

One could argue that players asking the league for a reason to take a pay cut while numbers show growth in the league is nothing more than common sense.

The NFL wants to be seen as credible in this sphere, release something – anything – that backs their assertions.  Saying, “trust us” doesn’t work when the stakes are this high.

You said there was a growing revenue gap. What did you mean?

In Monday’s article, I published the ALL and TOTAL revenue figures. ALL revenues are revenues that come into the league from its varying sources. TOTAL revenues shows what revenues are at after the owners take their cut off the top for expense credits.

As this graph and trendlne show, the gap between what the owners are taking in and the amount after the owners are taking a cut is widening.

What else is there about the graph?

You tell me… Does this look like a picture of an industry in decline? Revenues slightly leveled off just after the league reached the current CBA in 2006, but during the chilly economy, revenues have grown at an increased rate – 9% last year. This while the league saved hundreds of millions by not having to pay supplemental benefits to the players in the uncapped year, and there was a slowed spending trend on free agents, as opposed to spending more without the cap.

There’s more, right?

We could talk more on this, and let’s do. There is the cost of training facilities, payments on debt, in-stadium sponsorship deals, the escalation of ticket prices to watch practices, EBITA…  much more.

By: Maury Brown (Forbes)

Could ESPN Deal Prevent an NFL Lockout?

ESPN and the NFL are on the verge of a massive contract extension for Monday Night Football according to John Ourand at SportsBusinessDaily. The deal is expected to be worth between $1.8 billion and $1.9 billion per year and run for 9 to 10 years. It represents a 70% jump over ESPN’s current 8-year, $8.8 billion deal that expires after the 2013 season. The extension could keep one of sports crown jewels on ESPN through the 2023 season. “We continue to have conversations with the NFL and have not yet reached a new agreement,” says an ESPN spokesman.

We lobbied in October for ESPN to get a Super Bowl in its next NFL deal based on the fact that it was already paying 35-45% more than fellow NFL broadcasters CBS, NBC and Fox, but apparently that is not in the cards. The new deal reportedly will not include a Super Bowl for either ESPN or sister network ABC and only the “possibility” of a Wild Card game down the road. ESPN is pushing for broadband and mobile rights as part of this deal.

The extension illustrates the importance of the NFL to ESPN which has become one of the world’s most profitable media properties. The NFL is king in ESPN’s coverage on TV, radio, online and print. The NFL gets more than just a fat check from ESPN though. “Our relationship with the NFL is very important not only to us, but also to the NFL. They recognize the constant promotion, and the work ESPN does to promote the league. It deserves some mention in the growth of the NFL,” says ESPN President George Bodenheimer who visited Forbes this week as part of our Names You Need to Know series.

The new TV deal comes as owners and players brace for a potential lockout in March when their current collective bargaining agreement expires. Owners want a bigger piece of the revenue pie while players want to maintain their current share which ranges from 50-60% based on how you define revenue. The NFL has never been more profitable by our count with the average team earning $33 million in 2009 in operating profit (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) thanks to huge incomes for teams like the Cowboys, Patriots and Redskins. Bodenheimer says he is “optimistic” the NFL (and NBA) can avoid missing any games, but the network is readying alternative programming if games are canceled.

The player’s union has to love seeing TV contract extensions at huge increases. It gives less credence to the owners’ position that they can not make things work under the NFL’s current financial structure. It illustrates the dominant position the NFL holds on the current TV landscape where must-see live programming is increasingly rare. NFL games had record ratings across the networks last year including 106 million people tuning in for the Super Bowl between the Saints and Colts. NFL games made up 14 of the 15 most watched programs of the 2010 fall TV season. Could ESPN’s extension push owners and players closer together to a deal under the premise that there is more money for both parties? Click on the video below for more from Bodenheimer on a potential Olympic bid from ESPN, 3-D TV and the BCS.

By: Jock Rich (Forbes)

Super bowled over: Saints, Colts lose in playoffs

The NFL will have two new conference champions.

Both Super Bowl teams from last year lost Saturday on the first day of the playoffs. The Seattle Seahawks silenced their critics and stunned the defending champion New Orleans Saints 41-36 to open the postseason. The New York Jets ended the night with a last-second 17-16 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Nick Folk kicked a 32-yard field goal as time expired after Mark Sanchez led the Jets down the field and into range for the winning kick.

New York (12-5) will face the New England Patriots for the third time this season.

Peyton Manning and Adam Vinatieri looked as though they had combined for another comeback win when the famously clutch kicker made a 50-yarder to put the Colts (11-6) up 16-14 with 53 seconds remaining.

Seattle, the first division winner with a losing record, advanced behind four touchdown passes by Matt Hasselbeck and a brilliant 67-yard run by Marshawn Lynch on which he broke six tackles.

The Seahawks (8-9) will visit either top-seeded Atlanta next Saturday night or second-seeded Chicago on Sunday.

It was a shocking way for the Saints’ season to end. They led 17-7 early before their defense was decimated by Hasselbeck’s arm and, finally, Lynch’s run. A season after their first NFL championship, the Saints (11-6) couldn’t match up with an opponent they beat 34-19 in November.

“We did it with our crowd and we fit together so beautifully,” said coach Pete Carroll, who in his first season with the Seahawks led one of the biggest upsets in playoff history. “We kind of expected to win. I know that sounds crazy, but we did expect to win. The fact that it happened, it’s just kind of like, we want to take it in stride and go to the next one.”

On Sunday, Baltimore is at Kansas City and Green Bay visits Philadelphia.

Hasselbeck, who wasn’t cleared to return from a hip injury until Thursday, threw for 272 yards and a career playoff best four scores, two to tight end John Carlson. He outdueled Drew Brees, the Super Bowl MVP last February, who had a playoff record 39 completions, throwing 60 times for 404 yards and two scores.

It wasn’t enough, and he didn’t have the running game NFC West champion Seattle got – especially on Lynch’s TD.

Lynch took a second-down carry up the middle and a half-dozen Saints got their hands on him. None could bring him down, and Lynch tossed in a massive stiff arm that sent cornerback Tracy Porter to the turf as he completed the longest touchdown run of his career.

“That was the most unbelievable, unrealistic play I’ve ever seen in the history of football,” Seattle linebacker Aaron Curry said. “It was just unreal. It seems just like a routine football play, then he takes it to another level.”

Lynch finished with 131 yards on 19 carries, the first Seattle back to top 100 yards all season.

“We respect the heck out of the Saints,” Hasselbeck said, “but I think we felt something special all week and today, and we’ll see. It’s a good start for us.”

An unprecedented one, actually: No NFL team with a losing record had won a postseason game.

Ravens (12-4) at Chiefs (10-6)

Kansas City has not won a playoff game since Joe Montana was the quarterback and led the Chiefs to the AFC title game in 1994, a loss to Buffalo. The Chiefs are making their first postseason appearance since 2003.

“It’s priceless what they can pass on,” coach Todd Haley said of his players who have been to the playoffs, including right guard Ryan Lilja and linebacker Mike Vrabel, who have won Super Bowls. “We’ve got 21 guys that have some experience in the playoffs. Now, a lot of it is coming from a select few, but the good thing is those guys are all really strong leaders for us that aren’t afraid to let these guys know that everything is about one thing, and that’s trying to be at our best for this Sunday. It’s not about anything else.”

No, it’s not, Ravens star linebacker Ray Lewis agreed. And Lewis gets to the postseason almost every year.

“Talent is one thing,” Lewis said. “Your first, second, third quarter, talent is doing great. But then that fourth quarter, experience and playoff knowledge on what you do in these tight situations and what you do against this or against that, that’s where it all clicks in at.”

Packers (10-6) at Eagles (10-6)

Green Bay surged into the playoffs, routing the Giants, its main competition for a wild card, then beating the NFC North champion Bears 10-3 in the finale. Philadelphia, meanwhile, was upset by lowly Minnesota in its 15th game. Because they already owned the NFC East title, the Eagles also rested key players in the finale against Dallas, another loss.

Do those divergent results matter for Sunday’s game?

“I think in here there’s a lot of confidence,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. “Yeah, we have to go on the road and that makes it tough, but we’re just happy to be able to have played well the last couple of weeks and keep that momentum going as we go into a tough environment this weekend.”

Not all that tough this year: Philly is 4-4 at home.

“It’s a playoff game, man. It’s huge for us,” Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson said. “We know what’s out there on the line for us, and this has kind of been our goal all season, to make it through the regular season and put us in the best position to get to the playoffs. Now we’re finally here, so we just got to put it together and make some things happen.”


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