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"There has been a lot of speculation about whether the owners or the players will blink first in the 7-month-old baseball strike, but a critical third party is about to make its presence felt -- television," according to C.W. Nevius in today's SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE. KRON-TV said yesterday it will reduce the number of A's games it will televise in April, "a move that will be watched closely" by other TV stations around the country. According to sources, KRON included a provision in its contract with the A's specifying that a certain number of players must be of "major league caliber" to keep the agreement -- and the payments to the team -- in effect. Other stations around the country have similar stipulations in their contracts. KTVT- Dallas is reportedly considering declaring its contract with the Rangers "null and void" because of a clause stating that 75% of "returning players" must be of big-league quality. KRON, an NBC affiliate, is not blacking out coverage entirely, but will only show three A's games in April. The station regularly carries seven games in April. All three games will be played on weekends -- April 8, 16, 23. NBC's prime-time schedule has made a "significant rebound," and KRON does not want to cut into its "successful" weeknight schedule for replacement baseball (S.F. CHRONICLE, 3/22). OTHER MARKETS: S.F.'s KTVU, which carries the Giants and also owns a stake in the team, will televise a regular schedule of games. In Minneapolis, WCCO's Tim Scanlon said the station is planning on showing games, but will cut back on production expenses (SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, 3/22). In Houston, KTXH-TV, which planned to air about 65 Astros games this year, said sales of baseball related advertising are off 90%. KTXH VP/GM Mike Dunlop: "It's a disaster. The revenue picture is as bleak as bleak can be." For now, the station has no plans to air replacement games. They would rather save on production and travel costs. The station is also refusing to pay the Astros a licensing fee for replacement games (Greg Hassell, HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/22). The Red Sox and WSBK-TV Boston are still reworking the station's $17M contract for this year (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/21). The station has agreed to televise four exhibition games that were already planned. As for the talks with the Red Sox, WSBK GM Stu Tauber said "talks are going well": "We're not in a contentious situation at all. We have a sympathetic rights holder" (Jim Baker, BOSTON HERALD, 3/22). In New York, columnist Ira Berkow examines WABC's lawsuit against the Yankees: "The question comes down not so much to whether a contract is a contract, but the quality of the goods bargained for" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/22).
Some TV columnists critiqued this past weekend's coverage of the NCAA tournament by CBS. In San Francisco, C.W. Nevius thinks ESPN is better prepared to handle the tournament because it has mastered the art of switching back and forth from close games (SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE, 3/22). But in New York, Phil Mushnick says the "heat" that CBS has been taking for not showing the end of the UCLA-Missouri game on the East Coast has been "unfair," since both the UCLA game and Arkansas-Syracuse were close. The net was in a "lose-lose" situation (N.Y. POST, 3/22). In Baltimore, Milton Kent writes that "on the whole, CBS has done a pretty good job with the most difficult job in sports, sending pictures and words of an event spread over eight different locations into more than 220 markets" (Baltimore SUN, 3/22). In other hoop news, Univ. of Minnesota AD McKinley Boston said it was fortunate the Big 10 has a TV deal with CBS. Boston: "After what happened in the tournament this year, we might not have been in a position to negotiate the financial deal we made" (Minneapolis STAR TRIBUNE, 3/21).
USA TODAY will debut its online service April 17. As it develops in the coming months, the online service will have many of the same qualities the newspaper has, according to USA TODAY Publisher & President Tom Curley. It will include "deep sports coverage" from high school to college teams; comprehensive news, business and entertainment reports; and weather forecasts. At launch, the service will offer up-to-the-minute news and scores and the opportunity to interact with USA TODAY reporters. The online service is the first product launched by the newly formed USA TODAY Information Network. It will use Internet technology supplied by the CompuServe Network connection. Readers will subscribe directly to USA TODAY online and will be mailed a set of disks containing s customized version of CompuServe's Mosaic browser to load on to their computers. USA Today's Web site will only be accessible via USA TODAY's online service. The $14.95/month price includes three hours of usage time; each additional hour will be $3.95 (USA Today).