NBC, Turner still carry ball for NFL challenge

Media Watch

May 07, 1998|By Milton Kent

The idea of a new made-for-television football league just won't die, mostly because NBC and Turner won't let it.

The two broadcasting behemoths, each of which walked away from their slices of the NFL telecasting pie in January, have been tentatively talking about forming their own league to challenge the NFL since then.

Time-Warner vice chairman Ted Turner yesterday told a group of cable-television executives in Atlanta that talks between his company and NBC are still going on, but nothing has been resolved.

"Well, we can't say right now," Turner said. "But you know, stay tuned. It will be announced on CNN if it happens."

NBC president and CEO Bob Wright was a bit more reserved in an interview in yesterday's Los Angeles Times.

"We're still trying to do it," Wright said. "We've got to balance the issues of anger over not having football with creating something that is attractive to us in a network sense, which means we have to be able to generate large-enough audiences to make it worthwhile for our own television stations and our affiliates. It can't be a hobby."

If NBC elects to go in with Time-Warner on a league, Wright will have a pretty hefty sales job on his hands in convincing affiliated stations, like Baltimore's Channel 11, that an afternoon of non-NFL football -- likely going head-to-head against the NFL -- is more valuable to them than their local programming.

Indeed, Wright said in the interview that NBC officials, in passing on a $500-million-per-year contract to telecast AFC games, made the determination that there wasn't "any growth opportunity" with football and no "unique sales opportunity with it."

"We had it for 33 years, so we knew something about it," Wright said. "You know the markets involved and you look at a lot of the national games that we had to put on, a lot of them were just not that interesting to viewers."

So, why a new league? Well, professional football has a proven track record as the one sport that appeals to young male viewers, the most sought-after demographic in television. And the games provide numerous opportunities to attempt to sell those men on other network programming.

In creating a new venture, Turner and Wright would be figuring that they could siphon a piece of that demographic away from the NFL and its broadcasting partners (ABC, CBS, Fox and ESPN) by offering a generic product, with largely no-name players, at a far lower cost to advertisers, who will shell out record prices this fall for NFL time.

The late, and largely unlamented, World and U.S. Football leagues stand as testimony that the American public won't accept just any old brand of apple pie when it comes to its football, but Turner and NBC could certainly market and distribute their pie better than either of their predecessors.

That is, if they think it's worth building the bakery in the first place.

Line change

Be honest now. Given their playoff record, there weren't many of you who figured the Washington Capitals would still be around in the NHL playoffs, were there?

You can count HTS officials among you, as they loaded up the telecast schedule with Orioles games.

However, they have made arrangements for alternate telecasts of Caps games, and Comcast subscribers in Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties will be in luck, as the cable system will clear vacant channels for those telecasts.

Games 2, 3 and 4, to be played Saturday, Monday and next Wednesday, respectively, will air on channel 69 in Baltimore and Howard counties, and channel 66 in Harford County, all at 7 p.m. Games 6 and 7, if they take place, would also air in the same places at the same time.

Tonight's series opener and Game 5 will air on HTS, also at 7 p.m.

Anchor's aweigh

Off his very successful turn as host of TNT's Winter Olympics package, Jim Lampley has been tapped to anchor TBS' 45 hours of Goodwill Games coverage this summer from New York.

Lampley, who worked from an outdoor Olympic set in Nagano, Japan, last February, will anchor the Goodwill Games from a boat that will move around Manhattan during the nightly telecasts, which will run from July 19 through Aug. 2. There's no word from Turner officials on whether Lampley will be allowed to escape if the competition's bad.

Lampley, who has anchored HBO's boxing coverage for the past 10 years, will call Goodwill Games boxing for HBO. CBS also will carry some Goodwill programming on the weekends of the Games.

Pub Date: 5/07/98

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