For Philly NFL fans, it's democracy in action

Media Watch

October 29, 1998|By Milton Kent

If you don't have one of those spiffy little satellite dishes or a cozy relationship with the local sports barkeep, your weekly menu of NFL games can resemble the choices at an Army mess hall, though not nearly as appealing.

But the networks do listen, and occasionally, as is happening this week in Philadelphia, where viewers are deciding which game the Fox affiliate will show, the people are heard.

With the Eagles playing on Monday night, and no game of obvious local interest on tap, Fox and the local station are using a phone and Internet poll to help decide whether the New York Giants-Washington game or the Minnesota-Tampa Bay contest will air there at 1 p.m. The station will carry the Green Bay- San Francisco game at 4 p.m., as will Channel 45 here.

"We had internal discussions here about which game would be better to carry," said Roger LaMay, general manager of the Fox affiliate in Philadelphia. "I said, 'Let's let the audience decide.' "

Before protest lines start to form at Television Hill, a check of the rules is in order. Each network (CBS and Fox) is allowed to carry at least one game each Sunday, and the networks rotate doubleheaders, more or less, each week.

In cities where there is an NFL franchise, such as Baltimore, the local team's games must be shown. (Home games are subject to local blackout if not sold out 72 hours in advance.) Where the team is playing, home or away, affects what other game or games are televised, and how many are shown.

This week, for instance, because the Ravens are at home at 1 p.m. in a CBS game, Baltimore viewers are allowed to see only one other NFL afternoon game, Fox's 4 p.m. telecast of the Packers-49ers. When the Ravens are on the road, the market can see three games, but one of them must involve the Ravens.

When a local team is involved, a game decision is considerably easier, but when that team is off or playing on Sunday or Monday nights, things get a little more tricky. With the Bears off this week, the Chicago CBS station, for example, was originally scheduled to show the Denver-Cincinnati game, but will have Miami-Buffalo instead Sunday.

Both networks rely on a pool of executives that determines roughly about two weeks ahead of time which games go where. The pool sends that information out to the stations, each of which can make the case for a game it thinks will have more appeal, and thus bring in higher ratings. A CBS spokeswoman said 10 affiliates requested game changes this week, which is about average.

A firm decision is made three days before game time, but is subject to change pending blackouts and other last-minute factors.

"We're on the phone all the time with the affiliates," said Vanessa Hambridge, CBS Sports' director of programming. "We keep the lines of communication open pretty much down to the wire."

But, for the most part, viewers will see what the network wants them to see. With billions of dollars invested in the NFL, the

networks can't afford to leave decisions up to the whim of the public. And besides, viewers always have the ultimate decision-making power, in that if they don't like what they're getting, they just won't watch.

Olympic movement

NBC announced this week that it has brought on a former competitor to help run its Olympics operation.

Dennis Swanson, former president of ABC Sports, and current general manager of the NBC affiliate in New York, has been named co-chairman of the network's Olympics division, and will work with chairman Dick Ebersol and Olympics president Randy Falco, while retaining his duties with the local station.

Swanson, who ran ABC Sports for 10 years until he left in 1996, is credited for convincing the International Olympic Committee to stagger its Winter and Summer Games, a strategy that will see NBC hold exclusive Olympic rights for the next 10 years.

Good for the goose

Sports Illustrated last week rightfully rapped a Kansas City Star columnist on the knuckles for unprofessional conduct in the press box during a recent Chiefs game in Foxboro, Mass., but perhaps it should take care of things in-house first.

Senior writer Michael Silver, who has, in the last six months, penned a piece on tennis player Anna Kournikova more fitting for Playboy than a general-interest sports magazine as well as dropping in a gratuitous reference to basketball star Shawn Kemp's sexual prowess, stepped over the bounds of good taste again last week.

In a cover story on the NFL's dirtiest players, Silver, in relating an incident between San Francisco's Kevin Gogan and Denver's Neil Smith in last year's Pro Bowl, observed that players in that game "expend about as much effort as porn-film actors delivering dialogue."

It was bad enough that the magazine laid out in graphic detail how players inflict illegal damage on opponents, the kind of information that impressionable kids could use in their Pop Warner and high school games. Another of Silver's seemingly regular trips down Smut Lane was sophomoric, unnecessary and unbecoming a magazine with such a proud heritage.

Week's ratings

The ratings for the top 10 most-watched sporting events on Baltimore television, Oct.21-27:

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

Ravens-Pack. .... Sun. .. 13 .. 11.7/28

Jags-Broncos .... Sun. .. 13 .. 11.7/21

Steel.-Chiefs ... Mon. ... 2 .. 10.6/16

W. Series ....... Wed. .. 45 .. 10.0/16

Mon. Blast ...... Mon. ... 2 ... 8.2/12

Fig. skating .... Thu. ... 2 ... 7.6/12

Fig. skating .... Sat. ... 2 ... 4.4/8

Ravens Report ... Sat. .. 13 ... 3.4/6

NFL Today ....... Sun. .. 13 ... 3.4/10

School Show .. Sun. .. 11 ... 2.8/8

R-Rating; S-Share.

Pub Date: 10/29/98

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