Deal to televise Women's NBA shows NBC as bold yet pragmatic

Media Watch

June 28, 1996|By Milton Kent

In a deal that not only boosts the profile of women's basketball, but also likely draws the NBA and NBC more closely together, the two sides yesterday announced a broadcast contract for an eight-team women's league to open play next summer.

Starting next June, NBC will carry a Saturday Game of the Week of the Women's NBA over the 10-week season as well as the new league's championship game in late August.

The deal runs five years and marks the first time that a women's team sports league has received this type of coverage on a broadcast network.

NBA commissioner David Stern said the league looked at other networks, but decided to go with NBC, its men's partner, even though the network has done no women's basketball outside of Olympic coverage.

"Nobody has presented basketball like NBC. When you look to see who has the experience and the track record, and you look at what the NBA has gotten from NBC over the last six years, our dealings with NBC made it the first place to look," said Stern.

Under the terms of the deal, NBC will not pay the NBA a straight rights fee, but will donate its time and production costs. NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol said the network hopes the WNBA will get a 3.0 rating -- about what baseball delivers during the same time of the year.

"We'll be the happiest people on earth," said Ebersol.

The NBA will sell commercial time, arena signages and sponsorships, then share those revenues with the network and whatever cable entity gets involved.

League sources say ESPN and Lifetime, the women's cable network, are the presumed front-runners for the weekly cable games. An ESPN spokeswoman confirmed that the network is in discussion with the league about the women's package. Stern said the cable component would be announced next month.

There are two seasons to go on the current NBA contract, and television industry observers no doubt will note NBC's willingness to take on a fledgling product as a way to protect its hold on the NBA.

Stern said the women's package was not an outgrowth of the men's deal, but one can't help but think that NBC has taken a big step toward protecting the second most valuable annual television sports property, after the NFL.

Buck stops for Baltimore

The Orioles get Fox's ace treatment when tomorrow's game against the Yankees (Channel 45, 1 p.m.) is the lead broadcast, featuring its No. 1 production and announcing team.

But play-by-play man Joe Buck, son of Hall of Fame announcer Jack Buck, doesn't want this game or any that he works on the network level to feel like a big-time production.

"Those games seem so straight and so life-and-death. People enjoy listening to local telecasts because they're so relaxed and that's what I want to do here. I'm trying to do a fun broadcast," said Buck, who works with analyst Tim McCarver.

Buck, who does St. Louis Cardinals games, as well as NFL contests for Fox, says too often network telecasters come into a city and deliver a broadcast that gives the mistaken impression that they know as much about an individual team as the fans who follow it.

"People get turned off by network announcers and think, 'Here LTC are these people who swoop down and act like they know everything,' " said Buck, 27. "I can read all I want, but I'm not going to know as much about the Orioles as Jon Miller. Anybody who would come in and do a Cardinal game won't know as much as I would.

"My aim is to make the listener feel as though they got an informative and entertaining broadcast, and I think we're doing that so far."

Lonely American in London

With Americans getting bounced from Wimbledon unceremoniously, you might wonder whether NBC analyst John McEnroe has the itching to get back into regular competitive tennis.

Don't.

"The preparation and dedication is not in me at this time and I don't think it's ever going to be," McEnroe said earlier this week from his New York art gallery.

McEnroe will be a key part of NBC's coverage, which opens tomorrow at noon and continues Sunday at 3 p.m. (Channel 11). He was looking to get in some work for his rock group, the Johnny Smyth Band, while in London, but it apparently won't be feasible, financially or time-wise.

Miscellaneous

Coverage of the men's U.S. Olympic gymnastics trials from Boston takes place tomorrow at 4 p.m. (Channel 11), with the women's optionals airing live in prime time Sunday at 7 p.m.

ABC (Channel 2) will have the first program in its monthlong coverage of the Tour de France, the world's most important cycling race, tomorrow at 4: 30 p.m. (Channel 2) during "Wide World of Sports."

On Monday, ESPN sends along an exhibition game between the U.S. Olympic baseball team and their Cuban counterparts from Chattanooga, Tenn., at 7: 30 p.m.

Finally, on the radio side, Greg Sher will chat up NFL draft expert Mel Kiper Jr. tonight at 10 on WCBM (680 AM) on the subject of nuclear nonproliferation.

Just kidding.

Pub Date: 6/28/96

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