NBC chief says glut of baseball makes it a turnoff for networks

Media Watch

July 18, 1996|By Milton Kent

ATLANTA -- After just one telecast, his network is done with baseball until October, but, from the sidelines, NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol is keeping an eye trained on how the grand old game performs for Fox.

During a recent interview, Ebersol, whose network passed on a regular-season deal for a five-year All-Star Game and postseason package, said baseball's regular-season value to a network is "lost" because there are so many games available to the fan through local broadcasts and the ESPN package.

"Fox has a very interesting challenge to see whether it can put that institution back together," said Ebersol from his Olympics office. "The single biggest reason for baseball's decline is there's too much baseball. I have a DSS [direct satellite system] dish here. Over the air, I can watch three games and on DSS, I can watch 9 or 10. So, how are we supposed to take a broadcast package?"

He continued, "If the average person can see that many games, plus you add the ESPN national packages, what reason is there to bring them to the spring [games]? And I'm not criticizing Fox, because I think I would do exactly the same thing that they're doing."

However, Ebersol is quick to remind you that Fox is not doing a Game of the Week, or at least not in the classic Game of the Week model, where most of the country gets one game, with a backup telecast going to select markets.

Instead, Fox is delivering NFL-style regional telecasts, with four games going to different regions in an attempt to spike ratings.

"I don't think anybody with a brain -- and [Fox Sports President David] Hill has a large brain -- would do it any differently, and I'd do the same thing," said Ebersol. "But there's no Game of the Week, because there is no one game other than the last two or three weeks of September that people haven't already seen."

In response, Vince Wladika, a Fox spokesman, said, "One wonders why one of baseball's partners would knock baseball."

Guys, let's all play nice, huh?

Taming Misha

Tonight's installment of ESPN's "Outside the Lines" (7: 30 p.m.) examines the seeming collapse of the once powerful Russian athletic machine on the eve of one of its usual sites of conquest, the Summer Olympics. Host Bob Ley and reporters Chris Fowler and Larry Rawson scoured the landscape to figure out what happened.

Among their discoveries: The top baseball players in the country earn at best $200 a month and play at American high school level, and there are only two baseball diamonds in Moscow.

The ESPN crew also found a family fitting a 5-year-old boy for a second pair of Nikes at a cost of $119 -- more than the weekly income of the average Russian family.

Oddly enough, a 24-hour cable all-sports network will launch in Russia, starting tomorrow. The network's star, no doubt, is a loud, balding college basketball announcer named Dick Vitalov.

Lifetime's big splash

There will be more than a few people wondering why NBC, and now ESPN, are getting involved with the women's NBA, due to begin play next summer, given the building, but still relatively small interest in women's basketball.

There will be even more people questioning the rationale of Lifetime, a heretofore sports-less cable channel whose target audience is women, getting on the WNBA train with a weekly Friday night slate of games. But Lifetime CEO Doug McCormick says the new league is perfect for his network.

"We've had great feedback for our women's national team specials, and there's tremendous enthusiasm for our on-line sessions with [race car driver] Lyn St. James," said McCormick.

McCormick said the network, which sponsored the Colorado Silver Bullets women's baseball team, would be interested in telecasting a viable women's baseball league, should one ever start up.

CBS' hole-in-one coverage

There's a big incongruity in the August Golf Digest survey of reader preferences of television coverage and commentators that shows some duffers aren't as tuned in as they might want to be.

The 2,000 subscribers polled by the magazine declared that Pat Summerall was the best host of televised golf coverage, but Summerall hasn't been host of a golf tournament since he left CBS for Fox three years ago.

Summerall's successor at CBS, Jim Nantz, placed second, NBC's Dick Enberg third and Jim Kelly of ESPN fourth. Tellingly, perhaps, more readers expressed no preference than voted for any of the four. CBS' coverage was voted best, ahead of NBC's. ABC's Brent Musburger and Jack Nicklaus were dubbed worst host and analyst, respectively, while CBS' Gary McCord was named best other commentator, and his former colleague, Ben Wright, was tabbed the worst.

Oddly enough, 60 percent of those surveyed overall said they wanted Wright -- who was fired for offensive comments about women's golfers -- returned to the air, while 81 percent of women's golfers wanted him kept off.

Pub Date: 7/18/96

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