Nets Line Up Shows Amid NFL Labor Dispute

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Amid an uncertain labor situation, ESPN, Fox and other NFL partners - and even networks that don't air football - put plans in place to keep viewers 18-49 tuned in.

NEW YORK – Amid the NFL labor strife, networks and advertisers, who spend about $3 billion annually on ads during NFL games, are working on contingency plans in case football games won’t air this fall.

Even networks that don’t air NFL games are planning for the possible fallout. Spike TV, which has a lot of male viewers 18-49 years old, is considering developing alternative programs for football fans, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Spike president Kevin Kay told the paper that the network is thinking about booking a live boxing match on a Sunday night this fall to take advantage of a possible NFL interruption. The channel is also looking at possibly moving up the start of football comedy series Blue Mountain State to September from October and changing its time slot from 11pm on Wednesdays to Sundays to accommodate football fans’ viewing habits.

"We're already seeing advertisers asking questions about where they can move their money if there is a work stoppage," Kay told the Journal, "And in some cases, we are the answer."

NFL TV partners, such as CBS, Walt Disney's ESPN, Fox and NBC, remain hopeful that an NFL work stoppage won't disrupt the fall season, according to the Journal. ESPN can use college football and, along with Fox, Major League Baseball games to satisfy sports fans, it said. NBC Sports and CBS Sports didn’t comment on their likely contingency plans.

Advertisers haven't abandoned their usual May schedule for buying NFL ads, according to the Journal. But it said ad executives have shown increased interest in other big-audience events and shows as possible alternatives to the NFL – from golf and college football to prime-time dramas.

"We have talked to all our clients, and they're nervous," Jeff Lucas, who runs ad sales for such MTV Networks brands as MTV, VH1, Comedy Central and Spike TV, told the Journal. He said many of those networks’ biggest advertisers are also big NFL marketers - auto makers, brewers and mobile phone companies. "A lot of advertisers depend on the NFL to launch products, but they need to launch those products whether football is on or not," he said, adding that some advertisers have already committed to commercials on Viacom networks as an NFL backup.

"Football is so important to networks and buyers that they can't afford not to plan ahead," the Journal quoted Sam Armando, who oversees TV research at ad buying consultancy SMGx, as saying. "Both networks and advertisers are definitely working on a plan B.” Added Armando: "It's not like you can replace football overnight with other sports or prime-time shows. There are contracts and schedules and a lot that has to be worked out."