Despite hefty price, AFC rights are paying off for CBS

Milton Kent

January 21, 1999|By MILTON KENT

MEDIA WATCH — The first year into a potential eight-year deal is far too early to nail down concrete trends, and CBS Sports President Sean McManus is far too classy an individual to say "I told you so," but, if numbers from the Hollywood Reporter are accurate, McManus may have reason to do just that.

After CBS yanked away the rights to the AFC from NBC last January with a $500 million-per-year average offer, McManus and Mel Karmazin, then the No. 2 man at CBS, said over and over that the network expected to make a profit from NFL telecasts, even if it was only a dollar.

There were many who scoffed, most notably NBC Sports Chairman Dick Ebersol, who passed on the NFL, saying that at more than double the $217 million annually that NBC paid, the Peacock network could not turn a profit.

Lo and behold, the most recent issue of the Hollywood Reporter, an entertainment trade publication, reports that CBS may have netted as much as $450 million for the year, when network sales revenues, ad revenues from the 14 stations CBS owns and contributions from local stations were factored in.

In a certain sense, Ebersol was correct in that CBS Sports alone could never make back the $500 million outlay for football. But McManus, Michael Jordan, the former CEO of CBS, and Karmazin, who has succeeded Jordan, all said that the deal was larger than just CBS Sports, and they were right, too.

For instance, CBS owns stations in New York, Denver and Miami, three cities whose teams (Jets, Broncos and Dolphins) were still alive in the AFC semifinals, which means the network reaped the financial benefits of those teams' play on two levels, nationally and locally.

In addition, CBS has taken over first place in the prime-time race, thanks in no small part to the additional male viewers who plunk their fannies down each Sunday to watch football and see those enticing and relentless promos for shows like "Everybody Loves Raymond," which has seen its ratings rise. Higher ratings means more ad revenue, so, in an indirect sense, football is paying off for the rest of the network.

CBS' rights fee to the NFL will be higher next year, so that profit margin may decrease, but at least for now, some of the suits at the network's Black Rock headquarters are sticking their heads out the windows, wagging their tongues and saying "Nyahh."

Head for the hills

Just when our heads were clearing from the nonsense that is the "Winter X Games," ESPN yesterday announced a new assault on the consciousness, "The Great Outdoor Games."

Scheduled for the summer of 2000, "GOG" will feature a five-sport, 17-event competition, with nearly $300,000 in prize money, based on its block of Saturday morning outdoor programming.

Included on the menu:

Bass fishing.

Fly casting.

Speed tree climbing.

Timed chain tree sawing.

Shooting and archery competition.

A competition to see how far sporting dogs can jump into a lake.

No, we're not making this up.

Lake Placid, N.Y., site of the 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympics, will be the proud host of the first "Great Outdoor Games." Mark your calendar, and gather the family around for one of the great events in the history of recorded sports.

The personal pronoun

One of the most wearisome trends on "SportsCenter" and all the sports news shows is the seeming inability of reporters to relay information without injecting themselves into the story.

For instance, can the otherwise solid Andrea Kremer or the less solid Ron Jaworski tell a story without slipping in "I talked to [name your favorite player] " or "defensive coordinator X told me "?

Well, duh, Ron and Andrea. It stands to reason that if you are reporting a story that the person in question talked to you, not to the guy from CNN/SI or Fox. Just tell us what they said. We get the idea that they talked to you.

Likewise, it's more than a bit infuriating to hear how John Clayton of ESPN Magazine, or Chris Mortensen or Dick Vitale or whoever else is cited, is reporting whatever.

First off, the news they're trumpeting usually isn't that important, and if it is, they ought to either get on camera or on the phone. Secondly, will producers and executives be as vigilant about taking names and sticking out their chests when the stories are wrong?

Probably not. The general rule of thumb is that good work rewards itself and doesn't go seeking out praise. A lot of people, on both sides of the cameras, microphones and, yes, notebooks would do well to remember that.

Pub Date: 1/21/99

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