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Cablevision Chair Charles Dolan and News Corp. Chair Rupert Murdoch officially launched Fox Sports Net (FSN) last night at a ceremony in The Theater at MSG. NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani joined Dolan on stage and symbolically flipped switches which connected all of the network's affils. All Cablevision Rainbow Media RSNs that were known as SportsChannel, including NY, OH, New England, Chicago and Pacific, will now be known as Fox Sports NY, Fox Sports OH, Fox Sports New England, Fox Sports Chicago and Fox Sports Bay Area. The MSG Network will keep its name, but will feature some FSN programming. New logos for each re-branded channel were unveiled at the event, along with a taped prospectus of what the newly launched FSN can offer in the way of reach for national advertisers (THE DAILY). THE EVENT: FSN's Kevin Frazier and Van Earl Wright anchored "Fox Sports News." At 7:00pm ET, Frazier said, "We invite you to celebrate television history in the making." Fox's James Brown served as emcee while Murdoch appeared via satellite from London. Murdoch: "Fox has always been a huge believer in sports programming, and we believe Fox Sports Net is the future of sports television." Dolan: "We are ... very confident that the Fox Sports Net is poised to become the premiere sports network in America" (THE DAILY). FROM THE POWER PLAYERS: Earlier in the day, Cablevision CEO James Dolan said that FSN "will provide viewers across the country with unprecedented levels of choice and quality in televised sports." Fox Sports President David Hill, on bringing the Fox "attitude" to regional sportscasts: "What we're trying to do is to ramp up the production of local teams so that it looks like a full network broadcast." Fox TV CEO Chase Carey, on the aggregate ratings of FSN: "When you look at what our ratings will be combined on an NBA game or an NHL game or an MLB game, combined against the national games that are done [on TNT, TBS, ESPN, etc.] ... we will have ratings that are multiples ... of what those guys are doing." Hill, on competing with ESPN: "Are we going to cut into ESPN's ad revenue? Absolutely. But I think that as time goes on, I think the two services are pretty much supplementary." More Hill, asked if there is too much sports programming: "If there's one great thing about sports, it's that it's unscripted. And the guy in the white hat doesn't always get to kiss the horse. Sports is the last frontier of reality in television" (THE DAILY). TIERED-PACKAGES: Cablevision Chair Charles Dolan told the N.Y. DAILY NEWS that "somewhere in the not-too-distant future, viewers will be paying a premium for packages they now receive as part of their basic cable package." Dolan, on a tiered system: "If [the cable subscriber] wants all of the games of all of the teams -- great. He can buy Fox Sports New York and MSG together as part of a package, or he can buy one of them separately. What I hope will happen is we can pull teams out from the packages so if the subscriber wants to buy the games of one particular team he can have just that" (Bob Raissman, N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/29). MORE PROGRAMMING: FSN will premiere "Going Deep," hosted by Joe Buck, on February 1. The 60-minute weekly sports magazine show will offer a "behind-the-scenes look" at the names and issues "shaping the world of sports" (FSN).
WGN-TV will televise 92 Cubs games during the '98 season -- about 50 fewer than last year, according to Hirsley & Jones of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE. The station "characterized the decision as TV baseball history squeezed by TV baseball economics: The Cubs need to be taken off WGN at times for their own good." Hirsley & Jones: "Lower-rated baseball broadcasts need to be replaced by higher-rated entertainment shows so those programs can generate more ad revenues to pay higher baseball bills as the cost of fielding a competitive team continues to escalate." While Cubs games averaged a 4.7 rating last season, programs like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Dawson's Creek" receive higher ratings. Most of the games taken off WGN will be moved to CLTV, the Cubs' local cable partner, also owned by Tribune Co. But Hirsley & Jones note that CLTV's signal "doesn't reach beyond the immediate Chicago area," and added that "about" 30% of Chicago-area viewers don't have cable. Tribune Broadcasting Co. President Dennis FitzSimons: "Ultimately, the Cubs have to be competitive in terms of revenue they can generate for telecast rights if they're going to put a competitive team on the field." FitzSimons "stressed" that WGN still will carry more MLB games than any over-the-air station this year. FitzSimons: "Advertising budgets are not designed to support a 140-game (broadcast) schedule. There's a reason why no other (non-cable) station is carrying  games" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/29). Also in Chicago, Dave Van Dyck writes, "Where the Cubs will be hurt is in the marketing of a team that built itself through ivy- walled, sunny afternoon baseball on free TV." In addition to Cubs games, WGN will show 52 White Sox games and "several" end-of-season Bulls games (SUN-TIMES, 1/29). AND BUFFY? Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray, on being replaced by programming like "Buffy": "Well, hell, I'm more attractive than Buffy. ... Oh yeah. She's a gorgeous hunk of a woman. She may be good-looking, but she doesn't have anything to do with baseball" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 1/29).
PERSONALITIES: Greg Gumbel will return to CBS Sports on March 1, in time for its coverage of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. Gumbel said that the "chance to call football lured him back to CBS," and that he was "disappointed" that NBC hadn't named him as the No. 1 NBA play-by-play man (N.Y. TIMES, 1/29)....The crisis in the White House and the events in Iraq "may keep Dan Rather from anchoring [the CBS Evening News] next week at the Winter Olympics in Nagano" (USA TODAY, 1/29)....Former Indians coach Dave Nelson was named to the Indians radio broadcast team, along with Mike Hegan. They will join Tom Hamilton, who will take over as play-by-play man for Herb Score (Cleveland PLAIN DEALER, 1/28)....HTS "is expected to announce" that former Yankees analyst Rick Cerone will become an analyst on Orioles TV broadcasts (SUN, 1/29). ...Former Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware, who played last season in the CFL, "is trying to work out a deal with Fox" to work college football games (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/28).
Sports Illustrated named Michael Klingensmith as its new president, replacing Donald Elliman, who's stepping down "for personal reasons," according to Keith Kelly of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. Kelly's "insiders" said that Elliman's "son is ill and Elliman has spent the past year commuting from Denver," where his son has been undergoing treatment. Elliman, who has been with Time Inc. for 26 years, and President of SI since '92, will continue with Time Inc. on special projects. Klingensmith, who had been President of Entertainment Weekly since he founded it in '90, would "not reveal specific plans, but said he was sticking with Bill Colson as editor." Time Inc. CEO Don Logan said that SI "will explore spinning off other SI products, including other magazines." Logan, on the potential for SI Women/Sport and an SI for teens title: "I don't know if either will see the light of day, but you'll see a lot of print products -- including new magazines -- that are tied to the SI brand" (DAILY NEWS, 1/29). Fabio Freyre and John Jay will continue as Associate Publishers of SI, responsible for ad sales and marketing, respectively (N.Y. TIMES, 1/29).