Falling Orioles may raise stakes on WBAL in radio rights talks

Media Watch

August 17, 1999|By Milton Kent

By now, most fans acknowledge that the Orioles' 1999 postseason hopes are pretty nonexistent. Still, there are more than a few wild cards surrounding where their games will be heard on the radio next year.

The team's three-year pact with WBAL (1090 AM) expires after this season, and the pursuit of the rights may trigger a variety of scenarios, including baseball on the FM band or a new all-sports station.

All speculation begins with one fairly essential truth: Money will be the biggest factor in whether the Orioles return to WBAL, where the team's rights have been located for all but 10 of the 46 seasons the team has been in town.

The Orioles reportedly are seeking an annual fee in the $4 million ballpark, and all indications, from local industry observers, are that they will get it, even with the team's decided downturn over the past two seasons.

The question, of course, is whether WBAL, which pays a reported $3.5 million a season, according to Broadcasting & Cable magazine, roughly in the middle of the pack among American League teams, will jump to $4 million.

WBAL officials could not be reached to comment yesterday.

Besides going back to WBAL, the Orioles could also decide to keep their rights in-house and produce the games themselves, a scenario that Michael Lehr, the team's head of broadcasting and marketing, developed in Cleveland.

In that arrangement, the team would buy the air time from a local station and sell the advertising, but many industry sources consider that unlikely given the money that can be made by a rights fee transaction.

More likely, if the Orioles don't return to WBAL, is a stint with CBS, which not only owns the television outlets that carry Orioles games but also seven local radio stations.

Ken Stevens, general manager of the CBS group of stations, said baseball play-by-play on his stations is an intriguing prospect, but added that he doesn't expect WBAL to give up Orioles rights.

"I'd certainly be interested in talking and I think Orioles baseball would sound nice on one of our stations, but I assume they [WBAL] will do a new deal," Stevens said.

According to broadcast sources, CBS officials, who already have the rights to the Ravens, are analyzing the viability of the Orioles, but would only enter the picture if WBAL gets out, so as not to be used as a stalking horse to drive up the bidding.

A CBS purchase of Orioles rights might mean airing of games on FM, given that four of the company's stations are on that band. It would mark the first time baseball aired on FM in Baltimore. CBS already airs Ravens games on WLIF (101.9 FM).

Serious negotiations aren't expected to begin until possibly after the season ends.

The gridiron scene

ESPN has added a second Maryland football game to its college football schedule, the bulk of which was released yesterday.

The Terps' noon home game with West Virginia will air on ESPN2 on Sept. 18. The network already had announced that the Sept. 30 Maryland-Georgia Tech game from Atlanta would be the Thursday night game of the week, with kickoff around 8 p.m.

Off the tee

CBS rode the PGA Championship battle between Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia to a big ratings bonanza Sunday.

The network gleefully reported yesterday that overnight ratings for Sunday's final round were up 26 percent from the final-round telecast in 1998. That gives Sunday's round the highest PGA overnight ratings since 1986, when overnight measurements began.

On the subject of Sunday, while many of those "Sunday Conversations" on ESPN's "SportsCenter" are useless, because the interviewers are afraid to ask probing questions that have an edge or require the subjects to think, Jimmy Roberts is to be commended for a solid interview with Woods after the final round.

In the four-minute segment, Rogers asked Woods why it was that baseball hitters are able to ply their craft in a din of noise while golfers need total quiet.

More to the point, Roberts asked Woods, who was heckled during Sunday's final round, if the 23-year-old, who has been credited for making golf more accessible to a broader audience, couldn't also assume some of the blame for the rowdy nature of some of the new fans.

Roberts, a Maryland graduate, has always been one of ESPN's best reporters, and his performance Sunday only reconfirmed that.

Pub Date: 8/17/99

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