By Times Staff Writer
Published September 10, 2004
Tola Murphy-Baran knows all about the marketing power of the NFL. She rattles off the facts:
By gaining NFL broadcasting rights, Fox upped the major networks to four. ESPN became more popular when it signed on. Classic Network, with its archive thanks to NFL Films, became a hot property that ESPN purchased and turned into ESPN Classic. DirecTV was hardly the leader in satellite television until it was the beneficiary of the NFL Sunday Ticket, arguably the turning point in that company's history.
"The NFL," Murphy-Baran said, "was a marketmaker. It was a driver of new business."
As one of the key players in the launch of the hugely popular NFL Sunday Ticket, Murphy-Baran has learned her lessons well. Now the senior vice president of marketing at Sirius Satellite Radio, she hopes she has launched the company forward with another deal, this one bringing every NFL game to listeners. Sirius calls it NFL Sunday Drive.
Satellite radio is in its infancy, but is an attractive option for technophiles and those who are willing to pay for more choices.
Both XM Satellite and Sirius offer more than 50 music channels (in Sirius' case, commercial-free), various news, weather and traffic and other specialty stations such as sports and political talk. The equipment, which can be installed in a car, played at home and carried in a new "boom box" product, is relatively pricey and more complex compared with radio equipment, and requires a subscription (XM is $10 a month; Sirius is $13).
But the difference may be the NFL and other sports offerings, which come at no extra charge. With XM leading the race in terms of subscriptions by roughly 2-1, Murphy-Baran thinks exclusivity with the NFL (at a cost of $220-million over seven years) could put her company, which also carries the NHL and NBA, out front.
If it worked for DirecTV and Fox ...
"It's clear to me ... we could do the very same thing for Sirius," Murphy-Baran said. "It could be a marquee product that could bring fans into the satellite radio category. It's the swing vote for consumers choosing between Sirius and XM."
Sirius will be paying close attention to any spike in subscribers the next few months. The verdict is still out on football as a radio sport, with so many visual options available. But the NFL has a vested interest in making this work, and that's a strong marketing tool in recruiting customers for Sirius.
Murphy-Baran admits football on the radio is not as compelling as on television. But she said vast market research conducted when she was with the NFL showed that many NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers dropped their plans because of cost and time.
"A lot of former subscribers told us they just didn't have the time to spend all day Sunday in front of the television," Murphy-Baran said. "We are becoming an active, busy, mobile society. We'll provide that portability. You won't have to miss the second half of that game."
Listeners will get to choose between the home and visitor broadcasts for each game, with the exception of Tennessee. With so many in Tampa Bay from elsewhere, this is a crucial selling point (watching but listening to the home radio broadcasters won't work, however, as there is a 17-second delay).
Those who use satellite radio swear by it, and the new Sportster I've been test driving is a neat little device. Granted, nothing about satellite radio is plug-and-play: It takes time and patience to get started, getting a signal at home can be tricky and it has to be connected to speakers (the device does not "play" music).
The future, though, is bright. And with sports as the next battleground (both companies will carry college football games this fall), listeners should see that vast menu of options expand.
Baseball, which neither company carries, eventually will settle the war, because it is the premier radio sport. Until then, Sirius is smartly hoping to ride the NFL to the forefront.