Seattle Mariner owner Jeff Smulyan brought a ballpark full of ideas with him when he began trying last fall to sweeten the baseball club's television contract with Tacoma-based KSTW, including a proposal that the station pay for a free-agent first baseman, the station said Monday.
In a counterclaim to the Mariners' lawsuit last month seeking to get out of the three-year TV deal, the station's attorneys Monday said Smulyan, among other things, demanded KSTW put up "in excess of $1 million" to sign then-Boston Red Sox slugger Nick Esasky.
From the first time they met, Smulyan told KSTW officials he wanted to "terminate, revise or renegotiate the agreement in order to increase revenues ... at the expense of KSTW," according to a news release distributed Monday by the station.
Smulyan also demanded KSTW turn over advertising sales to the club and that the third year of the deal, covering the 1991 season, be canceled, station spokeswoman Leslie Donovan said in the release.
The owner also asked to reopen the terms of the 1990 season to require the station to pay more for the broadcast rights, the statement read.
Mariners attorney William Cronin, Smulyan and other team officials could not be reached for comment Monday. Baseball traditionally shuts down nearly all operations during its annual midsummer All-Star break.
The team filed lawsuit in King County Superior Court on June 15 seeking an escape from the contract on the grounds KSTW failed to build a region-wide network of stations to broadcast Mariners games from Alaska to Utah.
The team's lawsuit specifically alleged KSTW cut its broadcast schedule in the Spokane area from 46 games last year to 11 this season to avoid having games broadcast over a competitor's station. That hampered the team's efforts to build an Eastern Washington following, the club claimed.
KSTW-TV general manager and vice president Kevin Hale, who called Smulyan's demands "intimidation tactics," said viewership is at an all-time high this season over a network that stretches from Salt Lake City to Anchorage to Honolulu and includes Spokane, Yakima and the Tri-Cities.
Smulyan's attempt to break the contract is "not a result of any substantial failures or material breach by KSTW; instead, the action represents ... Smulyan's bad faith attempt to obtain economic benefits by controlling advertising revenues with 'an in-house' operation and his economic dissatisfaction with the agreement," the station's release said.
Compared with TV deals held by some other clubs, such as the New York Yankees' 10-year, $500 million arrangement with WABC, Smulyan has plenty reason to be unhappy, according to court documents.
The Mariners' KSTW deal, negotiated under the regime of former owner George Argyros by former club president Chuck Armstrong, gives the club $50,000 for the 1990 season and $75,000 for next year, court records show.
There also is a series of incentives, topping out at $100,000 to the club from the station if the team wins the World Series.
In 13 years, the Mariners never have finished with a winning record.
The contract also calls for KSTW to provide the team $115,000 worth of free advertising during the course of each season, and clears five minutes of air time each game to allow the team to sell beer advertising.
KSTW may have won over the support of baseball fans with the news that it balked at signing Esasky, however. He hit 30 home runs and drove in 108 last year for the Red Sox and signed a reported three-year, $5.7 million contract with the Atlanta Braves last November.
But this year, the slugger has been on the disabled list since April due to a bizarre problem with vertigo.
No court dates other than a January 1992 trial date have been set. The Mariners are seeking a hearing in October as soon as the season ends, while KSTW wants a court order barring the team from interfering with advertising sales and forcing it live up to the remainder of the contract.