Obstructed Grey Cup view is fault of league, not ESPN

ON THE AIR

November 28, 1994|By MILTON KENT

Let's say you are the executive of an all-sports cable network -- Home Team Sports, for instance -- and you have purchased exclusive television rights to a hot property, let's say, the Orioles.

Would you, the HTS executive, be at all willing to surrender your exclusive rights to an Orioles-Toronto Blue Jays game with pennant implications in September to an over-the-air station?

Of course not, and it was entirely unreasonable and more than a little naive, not to mention unfair, for anyone in Baltimore to expect that ESPN would do the same for yesterday's Grey Cup telecast for Channel 2.

Though it was unfortunate that the Baltimore-B.C. contest was not available on a broadcast station, the blame for that belongs to the Canadian Football League, which hasn't secured a contract with an over-the-air network in the United States.

ESPN, meanwhile, acted responsibly for itself and for its advertisers, who paid locally and nationally for time on the telecast with the expectation that they wouldn't get competition from someplace else, by turning down the CFLs.

If anything, ESPN deserves a tremendous amount of credit for twice allowing United Artists -- the city's cable carrier, which doesn't carry ESPN2 -- to pick up the signal so that Baltimore City cable subscribers could see the Grey Cup and the Eastern Division semifinal game against Toronto two weeks ago.

ESPN was willing to go even farther, granting permission late in the week for Channel 2, which aired the Eastern Division final last Sunday, to air a tape of the Grey Cup at 11:30 last night.

The permission came, however, after the station had set a 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline for a decision so that it could beat the bushes to sell ads.

The villain, if there is any, is the CFLs' front office, which consistently botched matters since the team beat Toronto in the Eastern semifinals.

First, the club was caught unaware that last week's Eastern final in Winnipeg would not be aired on ESPN2, then inexplicably began negotiating with Channel 13 to carry the game, without first checking with Channel 2, the local station that had aired Baltimore games all season.

Then, the team attempted to supersede a league contract with ESPN, which owns exclusive Grey Cup rights in this country, to get yesterday's game on Channel 2, which would have effectively ruined ESPN in the only U.S. market where the game really matters.

Team owner Jim Speros, after having been briefed by league officials on the situation in Vancouver, appeared on a local radio station Wednesday telling fans there still was a chance the game would air on Channel 2, when he knew or should have known that possibility no longer existed, if it ever did.

In the process, the CFLs may have damaged relations between Channel 2, which will become an ABC affiliate on Jan. 2, and ESPN, which is 80 percent owned by ABC, though the hurt feelings easily can be repaired.

Not so easily smoothed over, however, may be an undercurrent of hostility toward ESPN in this area on a matter where the network was simply doing the prudent thing.

What an offense!

During a "10 Minute Ticker" early during the Pittsburgh-Los Angeles Raiders game yesterday, NBC ran a graphic that the New York Giants were leading the Washington Redskins 63-3 in the first quarter. The score was corrected for the next ticker.

If the Giants' offense was that good, how could they have lost seven straight?

Thanksgiving leftovers

The normally overbearing Bob Trumpy turned in a nice performance for NBC's Thanksgiving Day broadcast of the Buffalo-Detroit game, with good observations that, for once, weren't delivered with his normal sledgehammer approach.

Trumpy also got off some clever lines. Noting that Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly and receiver Andre Reed appeared to have patched up their differences, Trumpy said, "I think they went and picked out china."

Later, when three holding calls where made on the same play, Trumpy quipped, "I'm glad no one was indicted."

At halftime Thursday, we may have been introduced to America's new favorite television kid, succeeding New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's son, Andrew.

Gunnar Esiason, the 3-year-old son of New York Jets quarterback Boomer, was delightfully playful as he jumped and played all over his helpless dad, who was being interviewed at the time by NBC's Greg Gumbel and Mike Ditka.

That is, to everyone except the producer who booked the interview and the poor audio man who had to hear Gunnar's squeals through a sensitive pair of headphones.

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