As fan/TV exec, Ebersol takes strike doubly hard

ON THE AIR

August 25, 1994|By MILTON KENT

NEW YORK -- NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol took a few puffs on an expensive cigar the other day while greeting reporters, but he was hardly in a celebratory mood, at least not where baseball is concerned.

Ebersol, whose network would be telecasting its first regular-season baseball game in five years tomorrow night if not for the strike, seemed resigned to the notion that the national pastime might be done for the year.

"I think there's a chance there'll be baseball this year, but I wouldn't be shocked if the next baseball game was next spring," said Ebersol. "I would hope that there would be some divine intervention in the next 10 days to two weeks, but I don't expect it's the kind of thing that's going to happen in the next couple of days."

The strike hurts Ebersol on two levels. As a fan, he mourns the possible end of what had been a potentially historic season.

"I can't remember a baseball season that was so loaded with interesting things. To have it all go poof and be gone, I just think is sadness beyond anything I've ever seen," said Ebersol. "I just hope we're not about to see the first major sport ever go without a postseason."

As an executive, he sees the work stoppage keeping NBC, for years the baseball network of record, from getting back to the sport that left its airwaves after the 1989 season.

Ebersol said the strike also retards the progress of The Baseball Network, the new partnership among his network, Major League Baseball and ABC, whereby games were presented on a regional basis over the last 12 weeks of the season, six weeks on each network, with advertising revenues split among the three entities in lieu of rights fees.

Ebersol said the four games that appeared on ABC had given executives on all sides a feeling that the regional plan could work.

In addition, ad salesmen at The Baseball Network had done, in Ebersol's view, an "unbelievable" job in getting ad prices for the World Series back to a premium.

"The World Series, the last four or five years, had almost begun to be a bargain price. These guys hung out for tough prices, and in the auto, beer and fast food categories, they were able to get the price back up again, which is important to the long-term health of the sport," said Ebersol.

Ebersol said The Baseball Network concept itself could be jeopardized by a long strike.

"It's not something that's at risk this month, but it would be in serious jeopardy in two or three months if there wasn't any baseball. It would have a hard time living beyond two or three years," he said.

Peacemaker?

Nice try by CNN's Larry King the other night to pronounce himself the baseball strikebreaker, as he prodded Donald Fehr and Richard Ravitch to call a truce on live television.

Oh, King was quite the baseball man of the people, right down to the precious baseball tie and suspenders, but the show produced very little light and just a modicum of heat.

As King's frequent guest, Ross Perot, might say, the notion of Larry as labor negotiator is a dog that just won't hunt.

Pete speaks

Former Dunbar athletic director and boys basketball coach Pete Pompey gives his first extended interview since he was transferred to Edmondson as athletic director on Gary Stein's "City Sports Scene" tonight at 10 and tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on United Artists Cable Channel 44.

jTC Because of restrictions on the questioning, however, don't expect grand revelations from Pompey about the circumstances surrounding his Dunbar departure.

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