MLB and ESPN are "headed for a messy, in-season
divorce," with Turner Sports possibly "assuming custody of
ESPN's national cable TV baseball rights," according to
Sherman & Mushnick in Saturday's N.Y. POST. After ESPN
acquired the entire NFL Sunday night schedule, it announced
that it would move its September Sunday night MLB games to
ESPN2. But sources told Sherman & Mushnick that "if Sunday
nights in September don't include baseball on ESPN, MLB will
seek to immediately void" its six-year, $255M deal with
ESPN, which is due to expire after the '99 season. The same
sources said that MLB "has inquired as to Turner's interests
in the MLB package, an inquiry that was met with an
enthusiastic response." A Turner spokesperson declined
comment, but said that Turner "has always held a high and
active regard" for MLB (N.Y. POST, 5/9). Mushnick writes
today that an ESPN spokesperson said yesterday that the
network "is committed to maintaining its contracted
relationship with MLB in spite of a growing concern that
baseball will seek to void its contract" (N.Y. POST, 5/11).
OLBERMANN'S TAKE: In his SportsFan Radio Network
commentary, Keith Olbermann says that ESPN's "Baseball
Tonight," the "only" sports newscast permitted to show MLB
highlights of games in-progress, "is part of the network's
deal with baseball and would presumably also go away" if the
deal is voided. Olbermann also says that the "disaster for
ESPN shows how quickly one can go from buddies to enemies in
baseball, or vice versa." Olbermann: "Disney, which owns
ESPN, was the fair-haired boy. Fox, which owns the Dodgers,
was the upstart. Turner, which owns the Braves, used to be
the pariah. Now Disney and ESPN are bums, Fox, the
veterans, and Turner, the savior" (SportsFan Radio, 5/11).
As the Pacers' lead grew during the overtime period
against the Knicks yesterday, Larry Stewart of the L.A.
TIMES questions why NBC stayed until the conclusion of the
game and didn't switch viewers in the L.A. and Seattle
markets to the Sonics-Lakers game already in progress. NBC
Sports VP Ed Markey: "You can't have it both ways. You
can't please two masters. We were committed to stay with
the game that people across the country had already invested
2 1/2 hours in." Markey, when asked about using a split
screen: "NBC never uses split screens on anything. The
problem is you're trying to please too many people and you
end up not pleasing anyone" (L.A. TIMES, 5/11).
MINOR COVERAGE: Celtics G Greg Minor, on his son,
Khalid, featured on SI's cover to highlight a story on pro
athletes having children out-of-wedlock: "It's horrifying.
What's he going to feel like 15 years from now?" (BOSTON
GLOBE, 5/9). Len Elmore, attorney/ESPN basketball analyst,
was the Guest Columnist in Sunday's N.Y. DAILY NEWS and
wrote on the paternity issue. Elmore: "I am particularly
frustrated with African-American male athletes who, despite
their lives of privilege, fail to understand and heed the
mistakes of the past while continuing to repeat them. ...
They bear a greater responsibility to be role models, not to
our children, but their own" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 5/10).
NOTES: In L.A., Century Communications began carrying
Fox Sports West 2 on most of its cable systems in the
evenings and on weekends, leading to a full-scale launch on
July 15. The move leaves Comcast, which mainly serves
Orange County, as the only "major holdout" not to carry FSW
2 (L.A. TIMES, 5/8)....In Toronto, William Houston wrote
that while "Hockey Night In Canada" relies heavily on
tradition, the show "arguably, needs a new star." Houston
added that its declining ratings "may also be attributable
to the show's predictability. ... To reach new viewers, the
show needs fresh ideas" (GLOBE & MAIL, 5/9)....ESPN has
dropped the X-Venture outdoor event from its X Games.
Research showed that the X-Venture earned 20% lower ratings
than other events (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 5/9)....In N.Y.,
Maria Ricapito profiled SLAM magazine and called the title,
with a circulation of 192,000, "the People magazine of
basketball." SLAM Dir of Advertising & Promotion Ronnie
Zeidel: "We're not the hoop magazine for the 45-year-old
couch potato. The most important thing to these kids is
basketball, fashion and girls -- in that order" (N.Y. TIMES,
5/10)....With ESPN's "SportsCenter" approaching its 20,000th
broadcast, Phil Mushnick questioned some of the network's
recent research and statistics and wrote, "Too many
SportsCenter staffers, past and current, in front of the
camera and behind the scenes, don't know what the heck
they're talking about. ... And these days, more time is
spent writing one-liners and hunting for same-day clips of
athletes who showed off for the TV cameras so they might be
seen on SportsCenter" (N.Y. POST, 5/10)...."The SportsJerks
NBA Tour," a six-part series on Comedy Central, premiered
Saturday. Co-Producer Danny DeVito said that "SportsJerks"
could evolve into a regular series in which its two
characters follow other sports (N.Y. POST, 5/9).
MSG "ignored the Knicks' radio flagship, WFAN, to sell
ad space on in-arena give-away playoff towels to the new
radio sports kid on the block, One on One Sports," according
to Phil Mushnick of the N.Y. POST. Sources say that MSG
charged One on One $20,000 for the promo, which Mushnick
called "hardly a lot of money to take in exchange for
ticking off your radio partner, unless that was part of the
plan." The act "has exacerbated a poor relationship between
MSG and WFAN," a relationship that "could be severed next
spring when the station's Knick and Ranger rights expire."
While MSG is "already threatening" to launch a radio
network," Mushnick wrote that this also "might be posturing
to get an edge in negotiations" (N.Y. POST, 5/10).
NASDAQ "has struck a multiyear deal with CBS" to
sponsor its NFL halftime show, according to sources of
Langdon Brockinton of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. NASDAQ has
also renewed its title sponsorship of CBS's college football
coverage. The two deals together are valued at $15-20M per
year. Under the terms of each deal, NASDAQ will get
category-exclusivity and will air multiple 30-second spots
per telecast (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 5/11).
MARKET SHARE: DAILY VARIETY's Rich Katz reports that
the NFL's TV network partners "are trying a variety of new
sales tactics" as they try to increase NFL ad prices by 20%,
but media buyers "believe they'll be able to hold price
hikes to single digits." No deals have been signed since
CBS inked Honda/Acura to be its first advertiser last month.
One media buyer: "It's pretty slow going." Katz reports
that buyers said that "one signal the networks are nervous
they'll be stuck with unsold, high-priced NFL inventory is
that the webs will likely try to package pro football with
primetime upfront inventory." Katz writes that while buyers
expect Fox and CBS to package their NFL games with the
primetime upfront, they "expect an even more strenuous push"
from ABC for "Monday Night Football." ABC is also trying to
maximize ad time by packaging "MNF" with ESPN's Sunday night
package, along with other NFL-related vehicles, including
ESPN2 and Classic Sports Network programming, as well as
ESPN Magazine and ESPN SportsZone (DAILY VARIETY, 5/11).
The Blazers "are not reconsidering their decision" to
remove Bill Schonely from its radio play-by-play, according
to Steve Brandon of the Portland OREGONIAN. Blazers
President Bob Whitsitt: "I think that was pretty well
decided last summer. ... I think the whole situation is
unfortunate for everybody" (Portland OREGONIAN, 5/8).
NHL RATINGS: The Sharks earned a 5.9 rating on Fox
Sports Bay Area for their final first-round playoff game
against the Stars. Up until then, ratings had averaged
around a 2.0 (OAKLAND TRIBUNE, 5/9)....Fox Sports Southwest
reported its top two ratings of the season for coverage of
the Stars first round games against the Sharks. Game Two
earned a 3.9 total rating and 7.5 cable rating. Game Six
earned a 3.6 total overall, and a 6.9 cable rating.
Regular-season Stars games drew an average of 0.7, with a
1.3 cable rating (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 5/9).