NFL Irked at CBS Over Vegas Spots

Feb 9, 2004  •  Post A Comment

The National Football League is angry with CBS, but not just because Janet Jackson flashed her breast during halftime.
The NFL is upset because some local CBS stations accepted advertising during the game from the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority-which the league said is a violation of its rules and its contract with CBS.
“We [were] unaware that they were running it, and it’s in violation of our policy,” said Brian McCarthy, a spokesman for the NFL. “It gives the perception that we endorse Las Vegas and gambling.”
The offending ads, themed “Only Vegas,” ran on CBS stations in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York, San Francisco and Dallas during Super Bowl XXXVIII.
Even though the commercials made no specific reference to gambling and did not show images of casinos, the league’s view is that any commercial touting Las Vegas associates the NFL with gambling, Mr. McCarthy said.
The league said its contract with CBS and other TV networks forbids any TV advertising related to gambling. The contract applies to commercials that air during the game and are bought through the network or the TV stations owned by the same parent company.
Mr. McCarthy said discussions have taken place with Viacom executives, including Dennis Swanson, executive VP of the Viacom Television Stations Group. What does the NFL want? “We are not going to disclose that,” he said.
Business executives say it is unlikely the NFL would try to void the contract over the matter. But it might seek monetary compensation, which probably would require the league to convince a judge that CBS’s running of those ads violated the contract.
A CBS spokesman would only say the ads were vetted by CBS and approved. Mr. McCarthy said: “They weren’t vetted. If they were, we were unaware of it.”
A spokesman for R&R Partners, the Las Vegas-based advertising and media agency representing the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, said the agency had no problems with CBS stations in getting the TV commercial on the air. The agency paid $1.5 million for the five-station commercial buy. Advertising executives say the Las Vegas ads weren’t intended to tout gambling, but tourism. The commercials didn’t show images of the Las Vegas strip or specific casinos.
R&R said it has done similar media buying campaigns before-for the Super Bowls played in 1999 and in 2001. In 1999, when Fox had the game, it bought seven Fox stations, in Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, San Diego, Seattle and St. Louis. In 2001, when CBS aired the Super Bowl, it bought 13 CBS stations, in Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Seattle and St. Louis.
The NFL says this is news to the league. “They must have slipped through,” Mr. McCarthy said.
The NFL said that ever since 1970, Las Vegas interests have tried to buy network advertising time on the Super Bowl but have been rejected.
The flap over ads comes on the heels of an aggressive pregame campaign by the NFL to shut down venues that promoted game viewing on big-screen TVs at parties where attendees had to pay an admission fee-especially casinos.
In advance of the game, the NFL contacted six Las Vegas casinos and eight other noncasino entities, including the New England Aquarium, which has an IMAX screen. The NFL was tipped off by advertisements run by venues that planned to air the Super Bowl game.
Some Las Vegas casinos-the Luxor, Mandalay Bay, Stardust and Las Vegas Hilton-altered plans either by not televising the game or by televising it without charging a fee.
The NFL said the airing of the game infringes on its copyright, and as a result, affects its revenues. At a big-screen casino, the league said, viewers are taken away from their home TV screens. That hurts ratings and impacts advertising for the TV station and the network.
Venues charging a fee for the viewing also may be in violation of copyright laws. Some of these noncasino venues aired other major NFL games such as the AFC and NFC championships. Mr. McCarthy said copyright laws state venues can’t televise the Super Bowl or other football games on screens 55 inches or larger.
Mr. McCarthy said legal action could be taken against the casinos or other venues should it be found that that they indeed aired the Super Bowl or other NFL games.
The casinos are reportedly considering a lawsuit against the NFL to clarify their rights to show the game to customers on a big screen. If that happens, the casinos may take their cue from Oscar Goodman, the former lawyer who is now mayor of Las Vegas.
“As far as I’m concerned the NFL is full of soup,” Mr. Goodman told reporters at a press conference some weeks ago in response to NFL attempts to curtail casino screenings. “I would tell them to go shove it.”