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Television Is Going From Sugar Daddy to Captain Crunch

March 20, 1987|LARRY STEWART

A couple of years ago, Kirk Gibson of the Detroit Tigers said of a $1-million salary offer: "It makes me want to vomit."

Aging Angel catcher Bob Boone recently refused $883,000 a year, saying he had too much pride to accept it.

These and other pro athletes seem to have lost touch with reality, and television is largely responsible.

Television has been sports' sugar daddy for 20 years. But the money is running out as competition for the advertising dollar increases.

Limos, helicopters, $500-a-night hotel suites and unlimited expense accounts have given way to layoffs, cutbacks and strikes at the television networks.

Now, sports is starting to feel the crunch.

Five years ago, when the last contract between the networks and the NFL was negotiated, each team got a raise from $6 million a year in TV revenue to $14 million.

That figure rose to $17.5 million during the life of the contract, which ended Feb. 1.

Next season, under the recently negotiated three-year contract, each team will earn $16.9 million per year from television, a cut of $600,000.

"We achieved our strategic objective, which was to halt the escalation of pro football rights fees," Neal Pilson, president of CBS Sports, said from Maui, Hawaii, this week after ratification of the new contract.

"This contract makes a powerful statement."

Added Pilson: "Baseball will be next."

The reduced money is one of two significant aspects of the new NFL contract. The other is the inclusion of a fourth carrier, cable network ESPN.

ESPN will pay about $55 million a year to televise eight Sunday night games the last half of the season, plus four exhibition games and the Pro Bowl.

Since the three major networks all passed on this package, it's a benefit to viewers that ESPN picked it up. But try telling that to viewers who don't have cable.

The Southland as a whole is one of the most heavily wired areas in the country, but most of Los Angeles remains unwired.

The city's procedure of awarding franchises was challenged in 1982, and legal and political meanderings since then have held things up. That's unfortunate for most of the NFL fans who live within the city's boundaries.

Although ESPN is required by the NFL to sell any Ram or Raider road games or sold-out home games to a local over-the-air station, all other games will be shown only on ESPN.

So viewers without cable will be deprived of seeing most of the ESPN games.

One solution would be to invest in a satellite dish, but ESPN plans to be scrambling its signal before the football season. So that would mean shelling out even more money for a descrambler and a monthly subscription fee.

ESPN is more widespread than any other cable network. It is seen in 41 million of the nation's 89 million TV households.

HBO, a strong contender in the bidding for NFL games, is seen in only 15 million homes.

"We pointed out the difference with vigor," ESPN President Bill Grimes said. "We took every advantage we could."

Another thing was that ESPN agreed to televise all its games on Sunday nights. HBO reportedly wanted to televise games on nights other than Sunday.

NFL coaches have never liked Thursday night games, claiming they disrupt their weekly routines.

The Sunday night games on ESPN will be televised at 5 p.m.

Grimes said he did not know what formula ESPN would use to farm out games to local stations.

"We don't know if we will sell a game to the affiliate that would normally carry the local NFL team or simply to the highest bidder," he said. "We have a lot of details yet to work out."

Grimes had one bit of encouraging news. He said Dick Vitale is not under consideration as one of the announcers on the package.

Cold shot: Sportscaster Joe Buttitta, after doing fill-in work at Channel 11 since December, signed a contract with the station three weeks ago and presumed he'd won the audition to become the station's weekend sports anchor.

But last week news director Erik Sorenson told Buttitta the station was going to hire a Phoenix sportscaster, Rick Garcia, instead. The station would honor Buttitta's contract for 13 weeks, until May 24, then he was gone.

However, after Buttitta met with Bill White, Channel 11's general manager, the blow was softened. The station has promised Buttitta a certain amount of part-time work even after his contract expires.

Oops Dept.: CBS commentator Billy Packer spoiled it for viewers planning to stay up and watch the delayed coverage of the Florida-Syracuse game Thursday night.

The 6 p.m. North Carolina-Notre Dame game was barely under way when Packer, in announcing that Providence had beaten Alabama, said two Big East schools had beaten two SEC schools. Syracuse and Providence are from the Big East.

New KMPC schedule: On April 6, KMPC will move Joel Meyer's popular "Sportsline" talk show to 4 p.m., where it will go head-to-head with Bud Furillo's "Sportstalk" on KABC.

On nights there isn't an Angel conflict, "Sportsline" will be followed by Jim Healy at 5:30 and by Bob Rowe shortly after Healy's "dreaded 6 o'clock tone."

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