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USC-UCLA Game to Be a Brownout: Pay-Per-View Only

November 14, 1986|LARRY STEWART

Learning that next weekend's USC-UCLA football game will be shown only on pay television ranks with running into freeway construction during rush hour.

It's bad enough that viewers, accustomed to getting the game on television for nothing, must now pay $15 or $20, depending on what their particular cable company is asking.

Worse, though, is that only about one-eighth of Southern California's television households will have access to the game.

If you don't have what is called an addressable cable system--one that has pay-per-view capabilities--forget it. And even if you have an addressable system, it must also be a Prime Ticket affiliate.

If you meet these qualifications, you still must call your cable operator to order the game.

Then you may hear something like: "All our operators are busy at this time. Please hold and your call will be answered in the order it was received."

You might consider reading a book while you wait.

When you order the game, be sure to ask what channel it will be shown on. Although Prime Ticket is producing the telecast, the channel for the game will vary from system to system.

If all this is a sign of things to come in sports broadcasting, someday we may look back on the '80s and say: "Remember when all you had to do was simply turn on the TV set? No complicated phone calls, no bills, no hassles. Boy, those were the days."

Who's to blame?: There are several parties responsible for USC-UCLA ending up on pay-per-view.

First of all, there's CBS. Strangely, the network has chosen to televise Arizona-Arizona State as the second half of its doubleheader Nov. 22, spurning the L.A. market. One could understand if that game were for the Rose Bowl berth, but Arizona State already has clinched the trip to Pasadena.

"We were flabbergasted," said Peter Dalis, UCLA's athletic director.

Len DeLuca, CBS sports' director of college program planning, said his network decided to go with Arizona State-Arizona because it is No. 5 vs. No. 14. Also, because UCLA will be making its fourth CBS appearance Saturday when it plays Washington, and also because USC will be on CBS Nov. 29 when it plays Notre Dame.

The Arizona State-Arizona game, at 12:30 p.m. Nov. 22, will follow the 9 a.m. Michigan-Ohio State showdown.

Dalis said he got a tip a week ago that CBS would probably choose the Arizonas over the L.A. schools. That's when he and Mike McGee, USC's athletic director, started actively looking into other alternatives.

CBS made it official Monday, and soon a deal was struck with Prime Ticket to show the game.

Prime Ticket then brought in Choice Channel, a Century City company with experience in pay-per-view, to help with distribution and marketing.

Other parties with a role in turning USC-UCLA into a pay-per-view event include:

--WTBS. Once CBS passed on the game, it seemed that Ted Turner's network might pick it up, since it has a contract with the Pacific 10. But WTBS is using up its quota of Pac-10 games Saturday with the USC-California game at 4 p.m. WTBS would have had to pay an extra $500,000 for USC-UCLA.

--Raycom. According to UCLA's Dalis, this North Carolina syndication company was working on a deal to televise the game locally on a commercial channel. But Raycom failed to land the major corporate sponsor, an automobile company, it thought it had lined up. Thus Raycom had to withdraw its offer, Dalis said.

--Dalis and McGee. The two athletic directors, naturally, are concerned about making money. These days they don't play football for just the fun of it.

Said Dalis: "Pay-per-view is something I've been looking into for the past two years. Here seemed like the perfect situation to give it a try."

But what about the people who don't have access to the telecast? Wouldn't it have been better to wait until addressable cable is more widespread?

"I don't know when we would get this opportunity again," Dalis said. "We don't know when another USC-UCLA football game would be available.

"If we want to test the marketplace for pay-per-view, we have to have an event with the appeal of a USC-UCLA football game."

Dalis said, however, that he doesn't envision the pay-per-view telecast bringing in anywhere near the $260,000 net per school that he estimates the game would have brought had CBS televised it.

McGee said that one positive aspect of a less-accessible telecast is that it won't have an averse effect on the live gate. Another thing, McGee said, "is we don't have to share the receipts from the telecast with the conference."

Each school is guaranteed $75,000.

Prime opportunity: Prime Ticket, the fledgling local sports cable network backed by Jerry Buss and Bill Daniels, can't be faulted for its role in the pay-per-view experiment.

It was offered a golden opportunity to jump into pay-per-view and grabbed it.

"We have been talking about eventually getting into pay-per-view, but we thought we'd have to wait quite a while to get the type of event needed," said Tony Acone, the president of Prime Ticket.

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