This one bears watching: CBS taps affiliates to help foot NFL bill

Media Watch

June 02, 1998|By Milton Kent

Lost in all the talk about the announcement last week that NBC and Turner are moving forward with the planning of a new football league was a story of potentially far-reaching consequence about how networks may pay for football telecasts and programming in the future.

CBS' more than 200 affiliates, meeting in Los Angeles, last Friday voted to kick in a portion of the $500 million annual fee that the network will pay to the NFL for at least the next five years.

Though Fox stations have been contributing about $30 million a year toward that network's purchase of NFC telecasts, the CBS deal marks the first time that one of the traditional three networks (ABC, NBC and CBS) has convinced its member stations to pony up money for sports programming.

"It's a fair deal for us and our affiliates, and from our standpoint, it's one more confirmation of the fact that this is a very intelligent deal for the CBS corporation," said Sean McManus, CBS Sports president.

Under the terms of the deal, estimated by some network sources to be worth around $35 to $40 million per year, each CBS station will contribute a payment, which will vary according to the size of its market, with the bigger stations paying more.

In exchange, the stations will get better and, in some cases, more advertising spots in prime time and other parts of the CBS schedule, but not during football game telecasts. It's not clear what effect the deal will have locally since Channel 13 is owned by CBS. ABC is trying to get its local stations to defray some of the $550 million annual cost for "Monday Night Football."

McManus said the affiliate agreement, along with early advertising deals struck with Honda, Visa and NASDAQ, should help CBS turn a profit on the mammoth NFL deal, or, at the very least, assist the network in breaking even.

"We will be able to not lose money," said McManus. "We've got almost $30 million in-house of [advertising] money that wasn't spent on the AFC package last year at all by companies. Every advertising deal that we've done is right in line with our projections."

In fact, some industry insiders believe that the NBC/Turner announcement last week was to try to keep advertisers from committing to the NFL by tossing out the possibility of a cheaper alternative.

"[They] are doing this to screw up advertising sales and put doubt in people's minds. It's falling on deaf ears, fortunately," said one television official who requested anonymity. "If Turner and NBC wanted to lose all this money, they could have lost it in the NFL. It's a theater of the bizarre."

Surgery for 'Mr. Baseball'

Milwaukee Brewers announcer and erstwhile actor Bob Uecker yesterday announced that he will not be a part of NBC's baseball broadcasting team for either the All-Star Game or the postseason.

Uecker, who had been paired with Bob Costas and Joe Morgan for NBC over parts of the past three seasons, said he would undergo postseason back surgery to remove four degenerative discs. The operation will require a six-month rehabilitation, including spending six to eight weeks in a brace.

"It's a problem that has gotten progressively worse. I hate to do this. It's a sad time for me," said Uecker, who has called Brewers games for 28 years and hopes to continue.

NBC Sports president Dick Ebersol said the network will not replace Uecker but will leave a chair open if the colorful former catcher decides to return.

Border wars

Informing the public on matters like potentially damaging weather is one of the most important services a television station can provide, so you can't fault Channel 11 for running those crawls across the bottom of the screen warning of tornado watches on Friday and Sunday during basketball.

But there has to be a way for Channel 11 personnel to keep the viewing audience informed without that solid blue border that prevents the public from seeing the entire score or whatever is being run in that space. Let's hope the station comes up with a solution as it carries the NBA Finals over the next week or so.

Of course, NBC could help considerably by putting a constant score and clock box in the upper corner of the screen, but don't hold your breath waiting for that.

Full disclosure

OK, so it has become too much to expect for networks to give results of events that they aren't airing, like Fox providing French Open scores or ABC or CBS giving major-league baseball scores.

But nobody does disinformation, in the form of self-promotion, like NBC. A "sports desk" segment near the end of Saturday's French Open telecast was a laughable piece of hype for coming NBC shows, like Sunday's Bulls-Pacers seventh game and next weekend's women's world championship of basketball.

In fact, on the latter, the hype for the WNBA, which NBC carries, was so thick that anchor Dan Hicks didn't even bother acknowledging that players from the other women's basketball league, the ABL, are on the world championship team.

Pub Date: 6/02/98

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