Weekend TV sports slate all but nonexistent

Postponed events affect programming

Terrorism Strikes America


September 15, 2001|By THE NEW YORK TIMES

Last weekend, there were 50 sports events on national television.

This weekend, there will be almost none. No baseball, no football, no golf, no boxing. Save for a CART race from Germany on ESPN this morning, and drag racing and rodeo on TNN, sports will be a nearly forgotten activity for two days.

Nearly everything has been postponed or canceled as the result of Tuesday's terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

"I can't remember a weekend like this," said Sean McManus, president of CBS Sports. "Like everything else that has happened, this is unique, in the worst sense of the word."

Had the NFL not postponed tomorrow's games, Fox Sports planned to replace its corner score box with an American flag and to insert patriotic vignettes throughout the broadcasts.

When NFL games resume Sept. 23, those features will be included. Fox will also carry the national anthem and invocation before each game.

"This is such an unprecedented tragedy perpetrated by wicked cowards," said David Hill, chairman of the Fox Sports Television Group. "The people who died should not be forgotten."

ESPN will carry no professional or college football, but its "College GameDay" and "NFL Countdown" programs will be seen today and tomorrow, respectively. Each will cover the impact of the deferred games and any other relevant news, said Chris LaPlaca, an ESPN spokesman.(NBC, without football, will not carry scheduled NASCAR and horse-racing programming.)

The time devoted to NFL games on Fox and ABC will be returned to local stations, with round-the-clock news coverage likely. CBS will carry sports repeats and movies over the weekend.

Sometime in the near future, the networks will talk to the league about the financial impact of losing the games. The network contracts - which call for the NFL to be paid $2.15 billion this season - contain clauses calling for good faith negotiations to provide financial relief for the loss of a game.

The rebate would not be one-sixteenth of each network's rights fee because the second game of the season is less valuable than one in Week 2 of December, which is less valuable than a playoff game.

"I'd assume the contracts have provisions like force majeure or "act of war," ' said Hill. "And this is an act of war."

Whatever relief is provided by the NFL will be calculated with an eye toward how much advertising the network has sold for the lost games.

Neal Pilson, a sports consultant, said: "They're entitled to an adjustment. Given the networks' current economic situations, I'm sure they would like to see one."

CBS, ABC and NBC received financial relief in 1987 when the NFL used nonunion replacements during the players' strike.

The attacks on Tuesday stranded some of ABC's Monday Night Football personnel in Denver. Melissa Stark, a sideline reporter, was still there Thursday, as was Howard Katz, the president of ABC Sports.

Five production employees rented a Winnebago to drive home. Eric Dickerson, an NFL sideline reporter, rode to California on the Crosby, Stills, Nash tour bus, said Mark Mandel, an ABC Sports spokesman.

Had so many NFL and college football games not been put off, the networks had elaborate ground transportation plans to move their announcers and crews nationwide.

At CBS, the same bus-bound crew that was to produce the Tennessee-Florida game in Gainesville today was to travel to Miami tomorrow for the Bills-Dolphins game.

Spencer Tillman and Tim Brando, usually co-hosts of CBS's "College Football Today" studio program were to drive from Houston and Baton Rouge, La., respectively, to call the Tennessee-Florida game, then head south for the Bills-Dolphins game tomorrow.

Dick Enberg was to drive from San Diego to Oakland to call the Jets-Raiders game; analyst Craig James and producer Lance Barrow planned to drive together for 20 hours from Dallas to Oakland.

Greg Gumbel was planning to drive from Orlando to Nashville to call the Bengals-Titans game.

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