Ch. 11 big winner in race to get slice of Browns' broadcasting pie THE BROWNS' MOVE TO BALTIMORE

Media Watch

November 07, 1995|By Milton Kent

Now that the Browns are on their way to Baltimore, the real games begin as media outlets line up to get a piece of the NFL gravy train, and announcers polish off their resumes and tapes.

Here's a look at what the move of the Browns will mean to the local and national broadcasting realm:

* Television: NBC, the network of the AFC, the Browns' conference, takes a bit of a hit in the move, since Baltimore, the nation's 23rd-largest television market, is smaller than Cleveland, the 13th largest. The Browns' local ratings -- a 22.2 through nine weeks -- were the fifth-highest among league teams this season, though they were down 17 percent from last season.

If the Oilers do abandon Houston (11) for Nashville (33), NBC would only have five teams in the nation's 15 largest markets.

NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol said yesterday the drop in market sizes "concerns us a lot," but said NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue and NFL president Neil Austrian would work with NBC.

"It still comes back to the two cities," said Ebersol. "Regardless of market size, [Baltimore] has proven again and again that it really is an enormous supporter of sport."

Channel 11, the NBC affiliate, is the big local winner in the move, since the bulk of the Browns' regular-season games will air there, except for when an NFC team comes to Baltimore, when Fox, or Channel 45, will get the telecasts.

Channel 11, which already has taken a commanding lead in this season's NFL ratings race, doubtless will garner high ratings, and thus command big advertising dollars.

The move will have its drawbacks. For instance, when the Browns are at home, local viewers will only be able to see two Sunday afternoon games, rather than the current three contests.

And you may not be done with Washington Redskins games, particularly if owner Jack Kent Cooke gets surly. The Redskins have designated Baltimore as a secondary television market, meaning that stations here must carry their road games.

An NBC official, who asked not to be named, said the Redskins could continue that designation, thus forcing local stations to air their road games. Of course, Browns owner Art Modell could, in turn, tap Washington as a secondary market, forcing its stations to carry Browns road games.

The team also will decide which of the city's five commercial stations (2, 11, 13, 45 or 54) will carry the Browns' four preseason games. The expected coach's show likely will be negotiated by the station and the coach.

* Radio: Here's where things could really get interesting and where the Browns will make the bulk of their local broadcasting dollars, which is above and beyond their estimated $40 million annual cut of the national television package.

According to the Sports Business Daily, radio rights in the NFL range from about $800,000 a year to the $4 million received by the San Francisco 49ers, with a league average of $1.5 million.

Industry sources believe, given Baltimore's market size, that the radio rights for Browns' games will likely cost at least $2 million, but could go up, depending, as one general manager put it, "how badly somebody wants it."

The rights would not include the purchase of satellite time to send the signal, merchandising costs, production fees or talent.

"Getting the rights fees is just like buying a boat. It's just the beginning," said one station manager.

Bob Leffler, a local advertising executive whose firm has represented the Browns for 11 years, said he was contacted yesterday by officials of six stations that want the rights, none of which he would name.

However, officials from four organizations, WBAL (1090 AM); WQSR (105.7 FM), Capitol Broadcasting, which owns WCLT (104.3 FM) and WWMX (106.5 FM) and Infinity, which owns WJFK (1300 AM) and WLIF (101.9 FM), have expressed interest.

The concept of finding a game on FM may sound unusual to Baltimoreans who remember WCBM (680 AM) as the longtime home of the Colts, but 11 of the 30 NFL teams have FM carriers.

Four of the stations here in Baltimore that have declared themselves in the race for the Browns are FM music stations, and it's expected that if WBAL, the Orioles' carrier, obtains the rights, it would shift games that conflict with baseball to WIYY (97.9 FM).

At least three men -- Channel 45's Bruce Cunningham, who has done Stallions radio broadcasts for two years, Gerry Sandusky of Channel 11, the current analyst for Maryland football broadcasts, and Channel 2's Scott Garceau, who called Stallions telecasts last season -- are declared candidates for the radio play-by-play post, though Orioles announcer Fred Manfra and Maryland play-by-play man Johnny Holliday also would appear to be in the running.

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