AFC's move to smaller markets may mean East is East again

Media Watch

November 20, 1995|By MILTON KENT

Students of geography have, for years, had a good chuckle at the NFL map that places Dallas and Arizona in an eastern division, while lopping Atlanta, New Orleans and now Carolina in a western alliance.

But in typical NFL fashion, it could be the recent spate of franchise shifts and their effect on the television contract, not good, old-fashioned common sense, that forces realignment.

With the planned moves of the Browns from Cleveland to Baltimore and the Oilers from Houston to Nashville, Tenn., the AFC would have just six teams in the nation's top 15 television markets, nine in the top 20, and only one team, the New England Patriots, in a top 10 market all to itself.

The Browns' move would replace the 13th-largest market with the 23rd, and the Oilers would go from the 11th-biggest television market to the 33rd, leaving NBC, the network of the AFC, with five of the seven smallest television cities in the NFL.

The current NFL television contract -- a $4.4 billion package split among Fox, NBC, ABC, ESPN and Turner -- expires in two seasons, and without a shuffling of larger market teams from the NFC, the AFC deal would be even more severely devalued than it is now.

With its current stable of sporting events, including two Olympics after the turn of the century, baseball and the NBA, NBC -- which pays more than $100 million a year less than Fox -- probably wouldn't feel pressured to bid high for a weakened AFC slate, though the NFL remains the big kahuna of televised sports, no matter how much one conference under-performs.

Of course, that could open the door for CBS to climb back into football, but how willing would Westinghouse, CBS' new owner, be to grab a decidedly inferior product?

The obvious solution is for commissioner Paul Tagliabue to convince some NFL owners to act in the league's best interests and shift conferences. But then, he hasn't had very much luck in that department lately, has he?

Another Olbermann blast

ESPN's Keith Olbermann, reportedly in line to become the next head of Baltimore's tourism council, continues to pepper the city with criticism for the Browns' move.

In his latest Prodigy column, Olbermann, noting that he has been "trashed" here lately, continues to call Baltimore "an accessory after the fact" to Art Modell's move.

"If you're in Baltimore and you want to enjoy the team and take a little sting out of the loss of the Colts, go right ahead. This is the way the world is today," wrote Olbermann. "But don't resort to hypocrisy by saying Baltimore deserves the franchise or by saying Baltimore isn't responsible for the team going there."

No one in Baltimore has attempted to gloss over any civic guilt, but Olbermann still owes this city and women everywhere an apology for analogizing the Browns' move to rape.

Have they no shame?

With the exception of a short feature on the day of his death last April, ABC has barely acknowledged the passing and influence of Howard Cosell.

However, at halftime of tonight's San Francisco-Miami game, the network will air a 21-year-old interview between Cosell and John Lennon -- which just happens to coincide with ABC's much-ballyhooed Beatles retrospective, airing this week, proving that taste and tact are in pretty short supply these days at the Alphabet Network.

Off to a good start

Less than two weeks after getting into the baseball biz, Fox has made a key pickup with the hiring of four-time Emmy winner John Filippelli to serve as coordinating producer of its coverage.

Filippelli, who will be lead game producer for the network, comes to Fox from The Baseball Network, where he was coordinating producer during its two years of existence. Before that, he was producer of NBC's Game of the Week for nine years, with two World Series, three playoffs and two All-Star Games to his credit, as well as three Emmys for baseball and one for his work on the 1988 Summer Olympics.

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