The NFL's Ten-Second Time Out

Pro football will take no chances with wardrobe malfunctions at its season-opening show -- it'll have a longer-than-usual time delay

By Tom Lowry

The National Football League is covering itself just in case the artists performing at its season opener on Thursday night, Sept. 9, decide not to do the same. The NFL has negotiated to insert a 10-second delay into the hourlong pregame festivities on ABC (DIS ) that will feature performances from singers like Destiny's Child, Mary J. Blige, Toby Keith, Elton John, Lenny Kravitz, and Jessica Simpson.

The league came under fire earlier this year following the Super Bowl live halftime show, when Justin Timberlake tore off part of pop star Janet Jackson's leather costume, exposing her breast to tens of millions of viewers. The NFL's decision to go with a 10-second delay comes as the Federal Communications Commission is reportedly ready to levy a record fine for indecency against CBS stations. The commissioners are set to unanimously approve a $550,000 fine against 20 stations owned by CBS, which broadcast the Super Bowl, The Washington Post reported on Sept. 4.


  The Janet Jackson incident erupted into a major brouhaha on Capitol Hill over indecency on TV. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and then-Viacom President Mel Karmazin were grilled in testimony at a series of congressional hearings about the halftime show, which was produced by Viacom's (VIA ) MTV Networks and broadcast on the company's CBS network.

This time around, the NFL isn't taking any chances. "We just want to make sure that if something does go wrong, we have time to correct it before it goes out to a mass audience," says NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy. League officials, say sources, are worried most about sexy trio Destiny's Child, who will be performing for the first time in two-and-a-half years at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass., home of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.

The NFL is exerting much more control over the entertainment portion of the show, including producing it in partnership with New York production company White Cherry. "The NFL also has final approval of lyrics, choreography, and, yes, wardrobe," says the NFL's McCarthy. The pregame show starts at 8 p.m. EST, ahead of the season's first game between the Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts, the team the Pats defeated for the AFC championship.


  ABC was already prepared to ensure that no untoward flesh is flashed. The network, owned by Walt Disney (DIS ), already has a rule that any live entertainment on the network gets a five-second delay. The NFL, however, asked for and was granted another five seconds on top of that, says ABC Sports spokesman Adam Freifeld.

The NFL season kickoff will be the third extravaganza put on by the NFL to generate interest in fall football. Last year, there was a concert at the Mall in Washington, D.C., featuring a scantily clad Britney Spears, and at Times Square in New York City the year before, with Bon Jovi.

Lowry is Media editor for BusinessWeek in New York

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