ABC on Indy: Coverage not compromised


May 27, 1999|By Milton Kent

In taking a roundhouse swing at Sports Illustrated and one of its writers, Indy Racing League president Tony George unfortunately caught ABC in his backswing.

George's intemperate attempt to bar Ed Hinton from the press box at Sunday's Indianapolis 500 because his writings have run afoul of the IRL has, in turn, forced the network to defend its coverage of the race.

To their credit, ABC officials say the IRL hasn't implicitly or otherwise imposed its will upon what they've tried to do during the 35 years they've shown the race.

"The directive I've been given is to go realistically cover what needs to be covered and do it in good taste," said Bob Goodrich, who has produced the race telecast for 13 years. "That's really the only guideline I have, and that hasn't changed with Howard Katz," the new ABC Sports president.

But, with the backdrop of the Masters' annual freeze-out of CBS' Gary McCord, one can never be sure when a league or organization will develop such a sense of self-importance that it would tell a network who it should send to cover an event and what to say.

Ideally, the outlet would tell the organization where to get off.

Blackledge audible

CBS has pulled Todd Blackledge out of ABC's studio and into the booth as the network's lead college football analyst.

Blackledge has spent the past five years with ABC, after doing analysis on Big East games as well as on Indianapolis Colts preseason contests and some bowl games.

Blackledge, a Penn State graduate and one of the six quarterbacks taken in the first round of the 1983 NFL draft, was chosen by Kansas City, playing there for six years, before finishing his career in Pittsburgh in 1989.

The numbers game

As the professional basketball and hockey seasons grind inexorably to their end, strange things are in the works in terms of their respective ratings.

NBA ratings, for example, are down from this time last year, and league and network insiders would tell you that the absence of Michael Jordan, not the clanging of jump shots or the flagrantly thrown elbows seen in many games, is the culprit.

NBC's numbers for last weekend's games were down 12 percent from last year, and Turner's ratings for TBS and TNT through Tuesday night's Portland-Utah game were off 3 percent from 1998.

The prospects for a rapid ratings increase aren't so great, given the virtual absence of compelling figures and the fact that of the five teams still alive, only one (New York) is in a Top 10 market.

That won't matter so much for cable, because audiences are markedly smaller there than on broadcast networks, but there will be more than a few NBC officials with a look like they went back for seconds in the burrito line if the NBA championship marquee has San Antonio and Indiana on it.

Meanwhile, ESPN is reporting that its NHL ratings, through Monday, are up 15 percent compared with last year's, and though that's good news, a bit of perspective is in order.

First, the league's overall playoff rating to date is a .93, roughly a third of what Turner is pulling in for the NBA playoffs, and the 1.5 rating ESPN got for each of the first two games of the Dallas-Colorado series this past weekend is about half of the NBA average.

And the future for the Stanley Cup Finals isn't all that bright, either. Dallas and Denver are Top 20 markets, but only one of them will advance. Meanwhile, in the East, Buffalo, one of the conference finalists, is the 42nd-largest market in the country, and Toronto isn't even measured for ratings, because it's in Canada, in case you hadn't heard.

Paid by the word?

There's been nothing wrong with USA's coverage of the first week of French Open play that a little silence won't cure.

Between the incessant ramblings of play-by-play man Barry MacKay and the ceaseless chatter of analyst John McEnroe, the telecasts have felt more like telethons.

Enough, already!

Pub Date: 5/27/99

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