County rejects sports advertising plan for Cable 8

April 02, 1993|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Staff Writer

Citing a lack of resources and a reluctance to permit paid

advertising on the county's educational-access cable TV channel, Howard County School Superintendent Michael Hickey has rejected a proposal to air commercials during Cable 8 sports broadcasts.

The proposal, written by Steve Bassett -- a professional broadcaster who owns a public relations and broadcasting/video productions firm in Ellicott City and has done volunteer play-by-play work for Cable 8 the past two years -- is designed to raise money for the county's financially-strapped high school athletic programs.

Bassett proposed that Cable 8, which will air about 20 high school games this school year, expand its operation to about 40 games.

He predicted that about $1 million could be generated through corporate sponsors and local businesses. Bassett figures the revenue, besides financing athletics, also would pay for additional operating expenses incurred by Cable 8. The rest would go to the Department of Communications, which provides educational programming for the station. Bassett projected that as much as $23,000 per high school could be raised.

"I respect the thinking behind the proposal, but our main role with Cable 8 is to be an educational channel, not a sports channel," Hickey said. "Our staff is already stretched to the limit, and to take on a commercial concept like this would tax us beyond our capability.

"While sports is a very important part of the school system, it's clearly a secondary part. I think I know what our mission is at Cable 8, and it's not to be a commercial sports channel."

Hickey also expressed concern that by airing commercials Cable 8 would be over stepping its boundaries with Storer Cable

Television. Under the county's cable franchise agreement, Cable depends on Storer for a significant portion of its funding. In the current fiscal year that ends June 30, that amounts to $92,000.

"I don't know that Storer would want to pay us to compete with them," said Maurice Kalin, an associate superintendent of planning and support services who studied the proposal with Hickey.

"I'm open to creative ideas, but I don't want to sacrifice $100,000 that's supporting our cable activities. We'd have to drop much of what we do in order to do the commercials, and we can't pull it off. Commercializing it [Cable 8] really is a step beyond how I had visualized it."

Bassett is disappointed that the proposal he spent a year crafting was shot down after a brief examination. Bassett expected his idea to generate more discussion among school board members, the school community and the business community.

"I thought at least a committee could have been put together to study the concept further," Bassett said. "I'd have liked to have been able to appear before the school board to explain the proposal more.

"I think they [Hickey and Kalin] missed the point. The idea is to put money back in the school system, not just to televise games. The idea is to put money back into the school system by using sports. Sports can be a magnet to generate funds. This county should look at what a catalyst athletics can be for a school system."

Bassett's proposal received the support of the county's high school athletic directors, who hailed it as a way to address the school system's budget problems.

The athletic equipment replacement budget has been sliced to $8,600 per school, less than half the level of three years ago.

"I'm surprised that under the economic conditions the school system is facing that they don't want to be a little more entrepreneurish," said Hammond athletic director Bob Maxey, who has worked on the air with Bassett for the past year and has promoted his proposal.

"We don't reach out to the business community for enough help. They [the board] don't think enough in terms of how to generate money. Instead, it's 'Where else can we cut?' The Cable 8 thing was an ideal opportunity to generate bucks. The system has let us down again."

Hickey disagreed with Maxey and suggested that Bassett's proposal might be successfully peddled elsewhere, such as directly to Storer Cable Television.

"The kind of cuts we've made [in the athletic budget] are not great, and I think our athletic program stacks up to any in the state," Hickey said. "I don't think we've closed the door on the idea. But as far as Cable 8 is concerned, the door is closed."

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