Ebersol puts his emotions on ice in returning baseball to NBC

Media Watch

November 28, 1995|By Milton Kent

Beyond just the normal seasonal temperature changes, you may have noticed a cooling trend in town, say around Halloween, and NBC Sports chieftain Dick Ebersol says his network's re-involvement with baseball had something to do with that.

"That was hell freezing over," said Ebersol with a laugh recently, after NBC signed on to take five years of postseason baseball, including two World Series.

This came just a few short months after Ebersol had declared his network out of the baseball business after the debacle that was the Baseball Network, which crumbled under the weight of undelivered promises from major-league officials.

"I don't expect anyone at this stage of the game to ever believe me, but this one had so much emotion tied up in it; my own plus the fact that NBC had baseball for 50 years," Ebersol said during a recent phone chat.

"All I can say is I'm happy this all worked out this way, but I'm as surprised as the next guy. No matter what people may think or hear, [in mid-October] we weren't going to be in this thing. But we got by the emotions."

The genesis of the deal was an impromptu meeting between Ebersol and longtime friend Bud Selig, the acting baseball commissioner, at Game 3 of the World Series.

Two days later, Selig and chief baseball TV negotiator Barry Frank called Ebersol and offered his network a reported $400 PTC million package of All-Star, playoff and World Series games over five years.

The important components of the offer for NBC, the top-rated prime-time network, were that baseball already had a regular-season carrier, namely Fox, and that the 1995 postseason ratings were good enough to make the deal viable.

So good, in fact, that Ebersol's anger over baseball's betrayal couldn't overcome a pretty good business arrangement for NBC and its corporate parent, General Electric, not to mention a little Halloween talk he'd had with his 5-year old son.

"I went trick-or-treating with my kids. One of the neighbors gave him some candy he didn't like," said Ebersol. "He looked up and he said, 'Dad, I can't picture myself trick-or-treating at that house for the rest of the century.' I realized I'd better put childish things aside."

Moving talk

The chief reason the news of the Browns' move wasn't broken on any of the Sunday pre-game shows was that it didn't come from the NFL offices, where the networks are spoon-fed their "inside" information. Since no one at the league's Park Avenue offices knew about it, the intrepid reporters couldn't tell you about it.

So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the same shows that were beaten so badly a few weeks ago are trying to cover their, um, tracks by reporting the company line that the move isn't set in stone.

The most vociferous of late is ESPN's Chris Mortensen, who has reported on the air and on Prodigy that the NFL might be willing to "fight the bitter battle" to keep the Browns in Cleveland.

Mortensen, who accused ex-Raiders coach Art Shell of slurring quarterback Jeff Hostetler last fall over their denials and without any on-the-record substantiation, reported that he cannot envision any scenario in which commissioner Paul Tagliabue will recommend approval of the move.

Mortensen said "several" compromises will be negotiated, and mouthed the empty platitude that his reporting was not an "attack" on the "great city" of Baltimore, which he said should get a team. Keep the niceties, Chris. Just give us straightforward reporting with names and faces, not shadowy sources.

Hoop scoop

The second year of the made-for-TV college basketball doubleheader, the Great Eight, kicks off tonight at 7 on ESPN, with Arkansas facing Michigan State, and Kentucky taking on Massachusetts in the nightcap.

Tomorrow night's pairing (same Bat time, same Bat station) has Oklahoma State-Wake Forest up first, with Kansas-Virginia wrapping things up.

Also, tonight's Towson State-Loyola women's game has a welcome little oddity: both schools' radio carriers -- WTMD (89.7 FM) and WCAO (600 AM) -- will have the contest, believed to mark the first time two Baltimore-area stations will broadcast the same women's game.

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