CBS is hoping to get a new life on track with Johnson, Bailey

Media Watch

February 20, 1997|By Milton Kent

Generally speaking, those declarations of enmity between the combatants before the latest "fight of the century" are not-so-thinly disguised attempts at hype, but you can really believe that the two fastest men on the planet, Donovan Bailey and Michael Johnson, really don't like each other.

Johnson, the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the 200 and 400 meters, and Bailey, who captured the 100 crown in world-record time in Atlanta, apparently have so much disgust for each other that they can't even agree that their made-for-television, 150-meter challenge on June 1 from Toronto's SkyDome will settle the question of who's faster.

About the only thing they can agree on is that their race, to be carried by CBS, and the attention that will flow from it is just what the doctor ordered for their sport, which languishes in non-Olympic years.

"We're taking a completely new and fresh approach to marketing the sport. The sport has to change," said Johnson, who smashed the 200 world record last summer. "We haven't kept up with the times, and to change we have to start doing things like this. I'm sure the purists have a problem with this and see it as out of the mainstream. We see where the mainstream of track and field is getting us. It's getting us low ratings and lack of exposure."

Indeed, most non-Olympic track meets attract the ratings of a paint-drying festival, but CBS officials, who have signed on for five meets this spring, say the tide could turn with the right spur.

"It's almost like a new sport. It's a chance for CBS to get in almost at the ground floor, and if we can make something out of it, then we'll be the beneficiary," said Rob Correa, vice president of programming at CBS Sports.

"We think it will attract not only the casual track fan, but the general sports fan. People will talk about it, and it's the kind of buzz the sport needs."

Batter up

ESPN has announced its 1997 baseball schedule, which kicks off with an Opening Day tripleheader on April 1, including an exclusive telecast of the Seattle-New York Yankees meeting at 8 p.m.

The network will telecast a Memorial Day doubleheader that will involve the Orioles in a 1 p.m. game with the Yankees that will not be seen on ESPN in this area, but instead will air on Home Team Sports. ESPN also will carry a tripleheader on July 4 and 26 Sunday night games this season.

As previously announced here, the Orioles will make at least three other ESPN appearances, with more possibly to be added as the season unfolds. The Orioles will be host to Cleveland on June 1, which, barring an early game, would mark announcer Jon Miller's return to the area. Other Baltimore ESPN games include a May 14 meeting with Anaheim and a Sept. 14 home date with the Yankees.

Summer hoops

The Women's NBA announced its inaugural schedule yesterday, including a 29-game regular-season telecast package to be divided among NBC, ESPN and Lifetime.

NBC, which will carry a Saturday game each week, will telecast the league's first contest, between the New York Liberty and the Los Angeles Sparks, on June 21 at 4 p.m. ESPN's first telecast comes on June 23, with the Utah Starzz host to the Sacramento Monarchs, and Lifetime begins its Friday night slate on June 27 with Los Angeles host to Sacramento.

ESPN and Lifetime will simulcast the playoff doubleheader between the top four of the eight teams in the league Aug. 28, with NBC carrying the championship game on Aug. 30.

Former All-America Ann Meyers will be NBC's WNBA analyst.

By the way, it's still difficult to get consistent women's basketball scores on ESPN, the self-proclaimed home of the sport. There are highlight packages and scores one night, and nothing the next.

For instance, after showing clips of No. 4 North Carolina losing its first conference game Monday night to North Carolina State, Tuesday's late "SportsCenter" completely missed one of the season's biggest upsets when a 7-17 UNC-Charlotte team knocked off No. 6 Alabama, a Final Four contender. And has anybody seen a score or highlight for the ABL, the league ESPN doesn't carry?

Mixed messages

So, after the big announcement that it would be starting a new magazine devoted to women's sports, the annual Sports Illustrated tribute to cheesecake, this week's swimsuit issue, is filled with nothing but cheesecake.

You can trot out the arguments that this year's issue has fewer semi-nude photos and that the presence of Tyra Banks, the first African-American woman ever to appear alone on the cover, is some sort of triumph, but the effect is still the same: Women are recognized for "accomplishments" that have nothing to do with what they do on the playing field.

Pub Date: 2/20/97

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