There may be a way for NFL to get CBS back in the picture

Media Watch

June 20, 1996|By Milton Kent

The current NFL television contract still has two more seasons to run, but the posturing for the next pact has begun.

The other Michael Jordan -- the one who runs Westinghouse and CBS -- fired an early salvo the other night on CNBC when he declared that he is willing to pay "a lot" to return the NFL to CBS, "in any way, shape, manner or form."

As you'll recall, CBS and the NFL had a nearly 40-year marriage before the league awarded the NFC contract to Fox two seasons ago.

CBS fell to pieces across the board without the NFL, and needs to get some portion of the league contract to get back on its feet.

The problem is, there may not be an easy way to do that. Currently, the league's broadcast pie is divided four ways, among NBC, which carries the AFC; ABC's Monday night package; and a Sunday night series that is split between ESPN and TNT. Unless CBS can pick off one of those entities, it may remain on the outside.

So, how does the NFL bring its longtime partner back to the table? There is a way that has some complications, but could make everyone relatively happy.

The league could give CBS the Sunday night package, making each game an interconference battle so that both NBC and Fox would be fairly evenly inconvenienced, and create another night of games, say Thursday, for ESPN and TNT.

The Thursday precedent already has been set, as the league moves Sunday games there now during the baseball playoff season to avoid conflicts. And with the addition of Carolina and Jacksonville to the NFL, there are 15 extra contests on the schedule, so there should be enough new games to make it worth everyone's while.

If that doesn't work, CBS could make a major play for NBC's AFC contract, which would be devalued seriously with the move of the Browns here and the possible relocation of the Houston Oilers to Nashville, Tenn.

zTC Love that Bob

There aren't many people who could get a six-month sabbatical worked into a new contract, but, then, there aren't many broadcasters like Bob Costas.

Costas, the best sportscaster on the planet, has received a new six-year deal with NBC, which has more important properties than any network on the planet. The deal will keep him with the network through both the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, and the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, over which he'll preside as prime-time host.

Costas, whose original deal had a year left to run, said he wanted to get a new contract done before he anchored the Atlanta Olympics next month so that he wouldn't have to answer questions about what he would do next, as he did in Barcelona in 1992.

"This gives me a chance, not comparing myself to them in terms of quality, to do a Carl Yastrzemski or a Brooks Robinson and spend my entire career with one team," said Costas.

In addition, Costas will continue as lead play-by-play voice on NBC's baseball coverage and as studio host for its NBA telecasts.

He also will return to NBC's NFL efforts this fall as a roving, special correspondent and not as pre-game host, which he did for nine years, and will have a continued role on "Dateline NBC," and the new all-news joint venture between NBC and Microsoft.

However, Costas, 44, will take six months off next March, and will miss the NBA playoffs. His anchor chair will be filled by Hannah Storm, as Costas takes some time off to spend with his family and to contemplate, a request his boss, NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol was amenable to.

"I've thought about doing the same thing," said Ebersol, who hammered out many of the details of the agreement with Costas while the two men were standing in a parking garage in Palm Beach, Fla., a few months ago. "Hannah has proven herself time and again at the forefront of top studio hosts. All he'll be missing is the NBA playoffs. It's the best of all worlds."

Given his youthful appearance, it's hard to ponder this, but at the end of this contract, Costas, who reportedly will earn at least $1 million annually, will be 50 years old, and he cracked that when the pact ends, he'll be "going to Antarctica and I'll never be heard from again."

"In the year 2002, I'll be 50," said Costas, "and Marv Albert will still be 50."

Pub Date: 6/20/96

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