What happened to national telecasts?

July 07, 1994|By Barry Horn | Barry Horn,Dallas Morning News

Only in America could the scoreboard read: Soccer 7, Baseball 0.

Here we are during the week before the All-Star break, and baseball has yet to make its 1994 network television debut.

Over the Fourth of July weekend, you could turn to ABC and watch Germany play Belgium, Saudi Arabia play Sweden or the United States play Brazil. That's a smorgasbord from four continents. Meanwhile, over on NBC, you could catch pro beach volleyball from Atlantic to Pacific coast.

If you wanted to watch the New York Yankees, you were out of luck. The world champion Toronto Blue Jays? Forget it. You can watch an international soccer game, but not a national baseball game. What in the name of mom, apple pie and Chevrolet is going on here?

No doubt, you already have heard the sad tale of CBS. The network bought the rights to baseball in 1990 and proceeded to lose $500 million of its $1.06 billion investment.

So when the time came for the networks to bid on a new baseball package, they avoided the temptation. No baseball, the prevailing wisdom went, no having to explain about all those lost dollars.

With CBS, ABC, and NBC unwilling to sink dollars into baseball, the game thought it might be better off creating its own network. And so, The Baseball Network was formed.

TBN is a joint venture formed by Major League Baseball, NBC and ABC. CBS could not be coaxed to join the partnership. At CBS, baseball is a four-letter word.

TBN has taken charge of network baseball. It is responsible for all the telecasts, advertising sales and sponsorships. It offers owners no rights fees, no guaranteed revenue at the start of the year, not a penny. If TBN makes money, baseball and the two networks make money.

Tuesday, TBN will offer the first nationally televised game of the season. You know it better as the All-Star Game. It will be the only nationally televised game between now and the World Series. Network baseball no longer means national telecasts.

NBC will carry the All-Star Game with familiar faces Bob Costas, Bob Uecker and Joe Morgan in the broadcast booth.

After the All-Star Game, ABC and NBC will offer a weekly "Baseball Night in America." On those nights, the network will offer up to 14 local games sent to what TBN determines are areas of natural interest.

ABC, the network of the World Series, will have a lead crew made up of Al Michaels, Tim McCarver and Jim Palmer. ABC's "Baseball Night in America" debuts July 16.

TBN promises to swing viewers around the country from game to game, should events warrant it.

Costas, who has become something of a goodwill ambassador for the game, believes TBN's regionalization was the way to go.

"In the past, the Yankees could have been playing the Red Sox for first place on Aug. 30 on a network's Game of the Week, while Chicago and St. Louis were both 15 games out and playing each other," Costas said. "In Chicago and St. Louis, those local teams would have higher ratings than the Yankees-Red Sox."

So tune in to the All-Star Game on Tuesday night. Enjoy the opening night of baseball's national telecast. And when it's over, you can say that you saw the closing national telecast of the season as well.

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