Former AFL Commissioner, Current NFL HOF CEO Talks Niche Sports and OTT Programming


JohnWallStreet had the pleasure of attending the 34th Annual March of Dimes Sports Luncheon, presented by Ford (F). Attended by more than 700 leaders and influencers within in the sports business industry; the event raised $1.17 million for pregnancy and baby health research, education, vaccines, and breakthroughs. JWS had a chance to catch up with former AFL Commissioner and CEO of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, David Baker, to discuss “niche” sports, OTT programming and the NFL’s 100th anniversary.

JWS: You spent 12 years building the Arena Football League. What is biggest hurdle that “niche” sports face?

Baker: Well number one, I call them “emerging” sports; but without question, it’s time. It’s the time to make the memories. Let’s remember, when the NFL had their first big break, when the Baltimore Colts and NY Giants met in what many consider the game of the century; the league was 38 years old. It almost must be passed down from generation to generation. That’s the biggest hurdle. There are things that you can see that are real cool, and real fast, and they flash; but to sustain it, it’s got to be multi-generational.

JWS: How long do you believe it takes for a league sports league to fully develop?

Baker: It takes 60 years to grow a major league, but with streaming and the internet there are so many more platforms, everybody has an opportunity to find their audience now.

JWS: NFL television ratings are down again this season, are you concerned that football is losing popularity?

Baker: You’ve got ratings that are dispersing because a lot of millennials are going to streaming and not watching that big screen, but it’s still an aggregate that is significantly higher than MLB, NBA and NHL combined. There was a time when basketball was going through something like this and a guy named Michael Jordan came along; all of us became glued to that game again. I think that the NFL is still strong and destined to be even stronger as we approach the 100th anniversary. 

Howie Long-Short: In preparation for the NFL’s 100thanniversary and centennial celebration, David Baker is overseeing construction of the Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village; a $800 million sports and entertainment “smart city” that surrounds “the Church of Football” in Canton, Ohio. You can’t invest in the county funded project, but you can in sponsor Johnson Controls (JCI), a multi-international manufacturer of automotive parts & HVAC equipment. The naming rights contract is estimated to be worth more than $100 million (plus technology) over 18 years.

Fan Marino: Speaking of “emerging” sports, the National Lacrosse League (indoor) just announced a partnership with CBS Sports Digital to stream regular season and playoff games (live and on-demand) on the subscription OTT service SportsLive. In a quote that echoed David’s thoughts on streaming and the internet, Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz said,“the future of sports is an ever-changing digital viewing experience.” It may be the present too; the league averaged 344,000 viewers for its TWTR game of the week last season and has 25,000 paying OTT subscribers.

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