Baseball's new TV deal will let fans see all of postseason again

Media Watch

November 08, 1995|By Milton Kent

Baltimoreans were understandably preoccupied Monday with a certain big announcement, but then Major League Baseball was making some pretty big headlines with an announcement of its own -- a five-year, $1.7 billion contract, split among four entities, that includes a few surprises.

The best news in the deal for fans is that if they have cable, they'll be able to see all postseason games, a significant improvement from this season, when the heavily criticized regionalization of the playoffs denied the nation that chance.

"Sometimes, in a perverse way, you have to go through some difficult times to get to the step that's best for you. That's what happened in this situation," said acting commissioner Bud Selig.

The biggest shock was the amount baseball was able to extract from Fox, NBC, ESPN and the new Liberty Media/Fox joint cable venture, which was significantly higher than had been expected. With the deal, the individual clubs will receive about $12 million per year, a 40 percent jump from this season's take from the Baseball Network.

And speaking of the Baseball Network, the presence of one of its partners, NBC -- whose president, Dick Ebersol had vowed not to bid on baseball until the turn of the century -- was another shock, but just goes to prove that anything is possible, especially in television.

The Peacock network, currently leading the prime-time race, will get two World Series, three All-Star Games and chunks of the division series and the League Championship Series for a cool $400 million. There is no regular-season coverage on NBC, the longtime baseball network of record, and the network frankly had no place for it, given its other commitments. NBC, however, could find room for the postseason and its heftier ratings.

Meanwhile, Fox will pay $575 million to get the rights to three World Series, two All-Star Games and most of the rest of the postseason.

The network also will bring back the Saturday afternoon "Game of the Week" with 20 regionalized telecasts next year and an additional game in each of the next four years, plus a one-hour pre-game show, 30 minutes of which will be devoted to children.

With the purchase of baseball rights, Fox, which didn't even have a sports division two years ago, now becomes a year-round operation, and will have the Stanley Cup Finals, the World Series and the Super Bowl between June 1996 and January 1997.

ESPN's regular-season Sunday and Wednesday night package was extended to the year 2000. The network will get its first taste of the playoffs -- a first for a cable outlet -- when it carries six to 12 division series games, in either the afternoon or late night, for a price tag of $440 million.

The final piece of the puzzle is the new melding of Liberty Media and Fox Cable, which gets into the game with a four-year series of non-exclusive games that will air in 1997 on the Liberty regional networks and Fox's fX cable channel next year for $188 million.

Finally, baseball got something right.

Watch out for hidden mikes

It seems like tonight's "6 Days to Sunday" special on TNT (8 p.m.), which tracks the planning, preparation and performance of the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings through the week leading up to their Sept. 17 game, is a natural idea that should have been tried years ago.

Steve Sabol, NFL Films' executive producer, said his company did try it 19 years ago, when it persuaded Hank Stram, then coach of the New Orleans Saints, to let his photographers have total access to the team.

They shot 300 rolls of film, but before the show could air, Stram had been fired.

Nothing like that has happened to any of the participants in "6 Days," an engrossing and illuminating 90-minute behind-the-scenes peek at how NFL teams get ready for each week's extravaganza.

"There is no team sport like the NFL in terms of preparation," said Sabol. "What we tried to do was give the public the sense that they were eavesdropping."

More Browns fallout

WWLG (1360 AM), the local home of the Spirit, Washington Bullets and Capitals and a provocative sports talk package, is seeking to add the Browns to its empire.

Meanwhile, Ted Patterson, co-host of one of WWLG's talk shows and someone with extensive play-by-play experience, has tossed his hat into the ring to perform similar duties for the Browns' radio network.

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