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ABC will have "more than 26 manned cameras" and the ability to shoot from 75 positions at Churchill Downs for its coverage of Saturday's Kentucky Derby, according to Prentis Rogers of the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. Event Producer Curt Gowdy Jr. said the net "will attempt to have a jockey- cam" if it can obtain permission (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 5/1). Gowdy also hopes to have wireless mikes on "as many as" four riders (Michael Hirsley, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 5/1). DRAWING FLAWS? Wednesday's Derby draw mix-up on ESPN is still in the news. In N.Y., Phil Mushnick writes that the "ESPN-aided butchering" of the draw is "more evidence of sports TV's misguided, arrogant desire to both cover and conduct a news event" (N.Y. POST, 5/1). Also in N.Y., Bob Raissman writes that Churchill Downs President Tom Meeker "never should have given ESPN the opportunity to run the draw. ... TV has too much control over sports already" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/1). In St. Pete, Ernest Hooper faults ESPN for becoming "part of a story it simply was supposed to cover" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 5/1). In San Antonio, Tim Price called it a "made-for-TV mess" (EXPRESS-NEWS, 5/1).
Cable operators are ready to "vent their frustration" to ESPN execs at next week's NCTA Cable '98 Show in Atlanta over the net's proposed 20% rate increase following its $4.8B NFL deal, according to Scott Hettrick of the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER. Operators "are ready to exact their pound of flesh" from ESPN and Disney, and "cite several points of leverage at their disposal," including "stonewalling the launch" of ESPNEWS, ESPN West, Classic Sports Network, and "even" Toon Disney. Hettrick adds that the "repercussions" may even affect the Disney Channel's ongoing efforts to convert to a basic service, and that some "major" cable companies "have warned ESPN to tread carefully" in the realm of rate increases as cable costs "are again drawing the ears of legislators." An ESPN spokesperson said that the net is "responding" to the concerns and "has instituted new incentives and adjusted packaging discounts," among them "flexibility in subscriber count." ESPN also offers discounts for positioning their channels side-by-side and for lower channel placement (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 5/1). TOO MANY ANGELS IN THE OUTFIELD: In Philadelphia, Lynn Zinser writes that ESPN is providing its viewers with "such a steady diet" of Angels telecasts, "they are close to qualifying as a food group." Although over the years ESPN has "done a better job than any other network at maintaining its credibility," the net "runs headlong into image problems" with its Angels coverage. Zinser: "[I]t can't erase the perception that it's doing Disney's bidding when it floods the airwaves with Disney's team." Fox, which also broadcasts MLB games and recently purchased the Dodgers, has a "built-in buffer" regarding conflicts of interests, because its MLB contract limits any team's number of appearances to nine. Fox Senior VP/Communications Vince Wladika: "That's there to prevent us from doing what it appears ESPN is doing." Zinser adds that ESPN "also has a limit" on how many times a team can appear, but the net "won't say what it is" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 5/1).
At least five affils of the Trail Blazers radio network "are considering reducing or eliminating game coverage because of Bill Schonely's pending departure as the team's play-by-play announcer," according to Jeff Manning of the Portland OREGONIAN. More than 20 of the 31 stations in the radio network "have written letters" to the team "protesting its decision to replace Schonely." Manning wrote that the Blazers "are learning firsthand about the unique emotional bond that a longtime announcer has with fans," and that in a league where players consistently change teams, Schonely "is the Blazers." Last year, Blazers Senior VP/Marketing Operations Harry Hutt signed Schonely to a three-year deal which called for him to do play-by-play in only the first year. Hutt's logic was to give Schonely one "triumphal year" and then "move him out," but the plan "backfired" when Schonely "went public with his unhappiness about the pending reassignment." Hutt: "Unfortunately, due to a lot of misconceptions, things got contentious." Manning reported that one of those "misconceptions" is that after this year, Schonely will be out of broadcasting. Schonely will be used in specials and halftime shows (OREGONIAN, 4/30).
Disney has exercised its option to purchase Paul Allen's remaining interest in Starwave Corporation. Last year, Disney made an initial investment in Seattle-based Starwave and formed two joint-venture Web sites, ESPN SportsZone and ABCNews.com. Starwave and the two sites will now become part of Buena Vista Internet Group (BVIG), Disney's Internet initiative arm. As part of BVIG, all existing Starwave sites will continue and Starwave's offices will serve as the core technology developers for all of BVIG. Starwave Chair & CEO Mike Slade will become BVIG President, while Patrick Naughton will serve as Chief Technology Officer, and Tom Phillips will run the ESPN sports group (Walt Disney Co.). BVIG Chair Jake Winebaum will continue in that role (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 5/1). DETAILS: In L.A., Martin Peers reports that Disney had owned 30% of Starwave, and its acquisition of the remaining 70% is "believed to value" Starwave at "more than" $300M. Although terms were not disclosed, Allen was believed to have held about 56% of Starwave before yesterday's deal, and "likely walked away" with more than $150M. Peers writes that the pact gives Disney the "ability to group its sites together and offer advertising space in packages across a range of sites" (DAILY VARIETY, 5/1). On Tuesday, before the Starwave deal was announced, Disney Chair Michael Eisner spoke at the Society of American Business Editors and Writers conference and said that his company wants to be "an aggressive competitor on the Internet." Eisner: "Eventually, content will prevail on the Internet just like it's prevailing now on cable [TV]" (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 4/30).
In N.Y., Bill Carter writes that NBC has taken the "first steps" toward becoming the first broadcast net to establish a "regular business in direct marketing to viewers through toll-free phone numbers." Last week, NBC withheld two 30-second spots during its miniseries "Merlin" and "used them to market the sale of videocassettes of the film." The experiment was "so successful" that the net plans to "begin aggressively seeking similar opportunities in other programs" (N.Y. TIMES, 5/1)....Fox Sports West 2 and Century Communications confirmed their deal putting FSW2 on Century systems throughout L.A. Century said that it "has no plans as yet" to add other Fox channels such as Fox Sports World or Fox Sports Americas (HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, 5/1)....Although official numbers were not released, Houston's Warner Cable said that PPV orders for Wednesday's Rockets-Jazz Game Three were "significantly higher" than a year ago. Suggested retail price for the telecasts is $19.95 (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/1)....The Football Network, "a basic cable channel that will show nothing but football," is planning a late August or early September launch (AP/S.F. EXAMINER, 4/29). ...Jefferson Bank will sponsor a new sports business report to begin airing on Philadelphia's Comcast SportsNet (CSN) today. The weekly news feature, called "Sport$ense," will air during CSN's Friday "SportsNITE" telecast, and again on Monday morning's SportsRISE show (CSN)....NBA Video's new "NBA Hardwood Heroes" hit stores Tuesday. The tape focuses on 11 of the game's top players and carries a suggested retail price of $14.98. NBA Video also released "NBA Wired For Sound," which documents conversations between coaches and players on and off the court. SRP is $14.98 (NBAE).
The following lists ratings from last weekend's network sporting events. All times are ET. The numbers are from the networks (THE DAILY).
EVENT DATE NET TIME RAT/SHR MLS: Clash-MetroStars4/25ABC2:00-4:00pm0.9/3 NASCAR: Touchstone Energy 3004/25ABC4:00-6:00pm1.9/6 CBS Sports Spect: Penn Relays4/25CBS2:00-3:00pm1.1/4 PGA Tour: Greater Greensboro4/25CBS3:00-6:00pm2.3/7 "NBA on NBC": Cavaliers-Pacers4/25NBC12:30-3:30pm3.6/13 "NBA on NBC": Spurs-Suns4/25NBC3:30-6:00pm4.5/14 NASCAR: Die Hard 5004/26ABC1:00-5:00pm5.7/15 Supercross Motorcycles4/26ABC5:00-6:00pm3.5/8 US Men's Clay Court Championship4/26CBS1:00-4:00pm1.2/3 PGA Tour: Greater Greensboro4/26CBS4:00-6:30pm3.4/8 "NHL on Fox": Regional Playoffs4/26FOX2:00-5:00pm1.8/5 "NBA on NBC": Knicks-Heat4/26NBC12:30-3:00pm4.8/14 "NBA on NBC": Blazers-Lakers4/26NBC3:00-5:30pm6.0/15 "NBA on NBC": Nets-Bulls4/26NBC5:30-8:00pm8.6/18
MORE RATINGS: Through Wednesday, the 20 NBA playoff game broadcasts on Turner Sports' TNT and TBS have earned a 2.5 rating, up 9% from the 2.3 it received a year ago (THE DAILY). As of Friday night, Turner will have broadcast a record 26 first round NBA playoff games, pushing its total for this year's playoffs over 40 games (Turner Sports). Wednesday's Rockets-Jazz game earned a 3.9 TNT rating, tying Game One of the Nets-Bulls series for TNT's highest playoff numbers this year (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/1). NBC's five-game playoff rating average is 5.5, down 8% from last year's 6.0 (NEWSDAY, 5/1)....Fox Sports Northwest (FSNW) earned a 5.6 rating for its "Mariners Warm Up" pregame show on April 22, the show's highest ever opening month number. For April, "Mariners Warm Up" averaged a 2.8, a 21% increase from last year's average of 2.2 (FSNW).