CBS is back in NFL picture Network secures AFC package

Fox retains NFC rights

January 13, 1998|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,SUN SPORTS MEDIA CRITIC

In a stunning development, CBS got back into the NFL telecasting business last night, obtaining the rights to AFC telecasts, beginning next September.

CBS, which had carried NFL games for more than 35 years before losing the NFC package to Fox four years ago, signed an eight-year contract with the league, with the first five years solid and the final three years at the league's option, industry sources said.

Neither the league nor CBS officials would confirm the deal has taken place, but industry sources say CBS, which will hold a news conference today to announce the deal, will pay the league $2.5 billion for the first five years of the contract. That is more than double the $217 million per year NBC paid for its current AFC rights.

The league announced that Fox had retained the NFC contract with an eight-year contract that is similar to the one signed by CBS. However, Fox will pay $2.75 billion for its package, because the NFC is perceived to be more desirable as a television property than the AFC. Fox also received the rights to three Super Bowls during the course of the eight-year deal, including two in the first five years.

In total, among all of its packages (AFC, NFC, "Monday Night Football" and cable), the NFL may be in position to receive more than $10 billion over the first five years of the new contract, which replaces deals that end after this season.

Locally, the CBS deal means that as many as 14 Ravens games will be seen next fall on Channel 13, instead of Channel 11.

CBS, which fell on hard times after losing the NFL four years ago, had been perceived as a long shot to return to NFL broadcasts because under NFL negotiating policy it could only gain a package if an incumbent network declined to meet the league's price.

Given the tumble CBS took in the first three years after losing football, conventional wisdom held that no incumbent network would voluntarily pass on football. NBC, which will lose the popular sitcom "Seinfeld" -- one of the few entertainment shows with appeal to male viewers that approaches the NFL's -- was thought to be willing to pay whatever it took to keep the NFL.

However, NBC, the longtime carrier of the AFC, apparently declined to meet CBS's price, perhaps feeling that it could not make money on the AFC contract.

NBC is now expected to challenge ABC for the rights to "Monday Night Football," the lone remaining package. Since the Monday night deal went for more than the AFC in the last contract, whoever receives the Monday package -- the only network prime-time NFL showcase -- will pay at least what CBS did for the AFC, but will have the chance to sell advertising in prime time, where revenues are higher than on Sunday afternoons.

The other contract still to be decided is the NFL's Sunday night package, which is jointly held by ESPN and Turner. No change is expected in that arrangement, though the two sides will pay significantly more than the nearly $1 billion they paid the last four years.

The league, in extending its deals past the usual four years, left itself protection with a three-year opener. If the advertising market is booming in five years, then it can reap some of that benefit by placing the packages back out for bid.

Double dip

ESPN has a juicy ACC basketball twin bill tomorrow night that will involve the nation's two top-ranked teams, and three pretty good announcers.

At 7 p.m., Wake Forest plays host to No. 2 Duke, with Brad Nessler and Len Elmore on the call. While Elmore is an insightful commentator, Nessler, frankly, seems more interested in getting off a clever line than informing his audience. Take Saturday's Maryland-North Carolina State game, for instance, where Nessler never told us why, at a critical late juncture of the game, the Wolfpack went to the free-throw line for two shots after hitting a three-pointer, especially since the Terps hadn't gone over the foul limit.

The Terps, meanwhile, play host to top-ranked North Carolina at 9 p.m. in the second half of the doubleheader, with Mike Patrick and Dick Vitale doing the honors.

Quiet, please

Maybe it was just to these ears, but it seemed as though there was a lot of idle and unnecessary chatter during the radio and television coverage of Sunday's NFC championship game.

On the radio side, analyst Matt Millen continued his annoying habit of talking over play-by-play man Howard David's call, both while the ball was in play and between downs. Millen, who teams with Dick Stockton on television for Fox, has interesting things to say. He just has to learn when to say them.

Meanwhile, the always solid Pat Summerall and John Madden, on at least three occasions, talked right over the official's announcement of penalties.

However, the crew of Summerall-Madden, led by producer Bob Stenner and director Sandy Grossman, more than redeemed itself.

Stenner, in particular, deserves kudos for calling up a graphic in the second half that explained the new intentional grounding rule as it related to a penalty called on Green Bay's Brett Favre.

Weekend ratings

The ratings for the top 10 most-watched sporting events on broadcast television in Baltimore last weekend:

VTC Event .. .. .. ..Day .. ..Ch. .. .. ..R/S

Denver-Pitt. .. .Sun. .. .11 .. ..19.1/39

Green Bay-S.F. ..Sun. .. .45 .. ..16.8/28

Skating (eve.) ..Sat. .. ..2 .. ..10.9/18

Skating (eve.) ..Thu. .. ..2 .. ...9.6/14

Skating .. .. ...Sat. .. ..2 .. ...7.8/17

NFL pre-game .. .Sun. .. .11 .. ...6.3/17

Skating (aft.) ..Sun. .. .13 .. ...5.6/10

NFL pre-game .. .Sun. .. .45 .. .. .4.9/9

Skating (aft.) ..Sat. .. .11 .. ...4.5/12

Kansas-Texas .. .Sat. .. .13 .. .. .2.6/7

Rating. S-Share

Date: 1/13/98

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