Ch. 2 appears ready to tune out OriolesTo those following...

RADIO-TV

June 25, 1993|By RAY FRAGER

Ch. 2 appears ready to tune out Orioles

To those following the bidding war over the Orioles -- do I hear $148.2 million out there? -- it must seem that some people will pay almost anything for the club.

When it comes to local television rights, though, that might not be the case.

The team's deal with WMAR expires after this season, and it appears the Orioles won't play on Channel 2 next year.

Officially, neither the Orioles nor Channel 2 will discuss the matter. Unofficially, looser lips in the Baltimore broadcasting community are saying that Channel 2 has walked away from negotiations, and, though the door remains open, WMAR has left the building.

Why would that be?

The Orioles are a wonderful property, but there are two rather large drawbacks:

* The rights fee. According to a recent issue of Broadcasting and Cable magazine, Channel 2 is paying the Orioles $5.5 million this year to carry 53 games. A new deal surely would cost more.

* The pre-emptions. The main benefit of being a network affiliate is network prime-time programming. Each time Channel 2 telecasts an Orioles night game, it is pre-empting NBC shows. Pre-emptions annoy the network and, more importantly, annoy the viewer.

Then add another factor: the new baseball contract with ABC and NBC. The networks won't be carrying many regular-season games, but when they do, the telecasts will air in prime time. On those nights, the networks will wield the terrible swift sword of exclusivity. That means no local game telecasts on several nights in the latter part of summer, when baseball interest can run high and pre-empting an evening of reruns isn't such a bad idea.

So owning Orioles rights isn't necessarily the key to the Magic Kingdome. But even if Channel 2 is out, somebody is going to be in. Who might that be? Try this scenario:

Orioles games are split between a network affiliate and an independent station. Not only does this divide the cost of the package, but it also provides flexibility for the affiliate, which could concentrate on weekend day games or pick and choose fewer night telecasts to avoid bumping too many network

shows.

The question remains, where will the Orioles be next year? Let's start with the independent: The only candidate is Channel 54.

Channel 45, actually just a semi-independent at this point because it carries Fox shows, is not bidding for the Orioles, general manager Steve Marks said yesterday.

Last go-round, Channel 54 made a big run at the Orioles, and the station has expressed an interest in adding sports programming, as it did with Maryland basketball games earlier this year.

Joe Koff, general manager of Channel 54, said this week: "We're in conversations with the Orioles." As for the possibility of sharing the package with a network affiliate, Koff said: "It's not a new idea. . . . That configuration is entirely workable and possible."

And if that configuration comes off, it most likely will be with Channel 13. Channel 11 isn't bidding for rights, programming director Emerson Coleman said yesterday, and though Channel 2 won't say so, plenty of people in broadcasting are saying that WMAR's 15-year streak of carrying the Orioles is ending.

Before the last Orioles contract, Channel 13 was rumored to have been in the running. Part of that speculation was based on the shared ownership of WJZ and the Orioles'cable home, Home Team Sports, both part of Westinghouse.

Meanwhile, Channel 54's Koff wasn't willing to go beyond saying his station is talking to the Orioles. Channel 13 general manager Marcellus Alexander could not be reached last night. Orioles spokesman Rick Vaughn said it is club president Larry Lucchino's policy not to comment on on-going negotiations.

Peacock rumor

A report in USA Today this week had Orioles play-by-play man Jon Miller talking with NBC about joining its baseball telecasts. Miller says it's news to him.

"I really haven't discussed it with Ron Shapiro," said Miller, referring to the Baltimore attorney who represents him, several Orioles, other major-leaguers and might be finishing up a trading-card deal with Topps on behalf of the pope.

"At this point, it's a non-news story. There's nothing going on. If they [NBC] were talking to me, it was a secret to me."

Miller's contracts with the Orioles (for radio and television) and ESPN (for Sunday night baseball) expire after this season, but he said no negotiations have begun for 1994.

"I still enjoy doing local baseball. That would be my preference," he said.

"We'll see what's out there. We'll see what anybody's offering. But I'm enjoying what I'm doing right now."

When Miller starts talking about ESPN vs. ABC or NBC, he doesn't sound like someone enamored of a network job.

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