SBJ/September 3 - 9, 2001/Media

CNN/Sports Illustrated looks beyond the headlines for more events

Sports news network CNN/Sports Illustrated, looking to boost its distribution, is in the hunt to add more event programming to its schedule.

Near-term targets include a variety of college sports plus pro tennis, pro golf and minor league baseball, said Steve Robinson, executive vice president and general manager of CNN/SI, which reaches almost 19 million households.

The cable network's current roster of events includes NASCAR (live Winston Cup qualifying on Fridays and live "Happy Hour" coverage on Saturdays during the second half of the season), Wimbledon (a two-hour highlights show airing nightly throughout the Grand Slam tennis tournament), the Women's United Soccer Association (live game telecasts) and the 2001 Goodwill Games (rebroadcasts of coverage on sister network TNT). All four properties, in fact, air on TNT.

Two weeks ago, however, CNN/SI — sans TNT — cut a deal with the National Lacrosse League to become the exclusive national television partner of the pro indoor league. That agreement covers the NLL's 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons.

Although CNN/SI, which debuted Dec. 12, 1996, is trying to diversify its programming, its raison d'être will remain news.

"We are first and foremost a sports news channel," Robinson said. "Our primary or core mission will always be sports news, analysis and storytelling."

Still, Robinson said, "As we've evolved and as the world of 24-hour sports [news] television has evolved, it's clear to us that if we are going to grow our distribution — and that is clearly the priority — we really have to diversify our programming. The biggest part of that strategy at the moment is acquiring events."

Another component of the strategy is to create additional "specialty shows." A weekly half-hour series called "Trev Alberts' Full Tilt" is expected to launch sometime this fall. The program, still in the formative stages, will showcase the opinionated Alberts but will also include guests. Alberts, a former All-America football player for the University of Nebraska, is already an analyst on CNN/SI's weekly college football and NFL preview shows.

Among the network's current lineup of specialty shows are "Sports Illustrated — Cover to Cover," "Sports Illustrated's Golf Plus," "NASCAR Plus," "Page One" and "This Week in the NBA."

Additionally, CNN/SI is interested in developing one-time specials.

"If Michael Jordan returns, I wouldn't be surprised if we devote a half-hour special to that," Robinson said. Another possibility: a show commemorating the 50th anniversary of Bobby Thomson's dramatic home run that lifted the New York Giants over the Brooklyn Dodgers in their 1951 National League playoff game.

WINTER GAMES BUY: John Hancock has bought ad time on NBC's coverage of the 2002 Winter Olympics, sources said, bringing to about 85 percent the amount of inventory sold for the network's Salt Lake City Games broadcasts.

FSN SPONSORSHIPS: Kyocera is the new presenting sponsor this season of Fox Sports Net's "College Football Saturday" coverage. Fox Sports Net has rights to the Pac-10 and Big 12 conferences. ... Nissan is the sponsor of FSN's college football halftime reports this season. ... The U.S. Postal Service will be the new presenting sponsor this season of "NFL This Morning," FSN's Sunday pregame show.

Contact Langdon Brockinton at lbrockinton@amcity.com.

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