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Networks Threaten to Play Hardball


LOS ANGELES — The saber rattling has already started between the TV networks and the NFL over the next contract.

Dick Ebersole, the head of NBC Sports, said last week that the networks are going to lose $200 million on the NFL in 1993.

Last year, the networks negotiated a rebate for 1993 in exchange for a two-year extension with Art Modell, the Cleveland Browns owner who heads the TV committee. Tagliabue, though, couldn't get 21 owners to support to proposal.

"If we don't think we can make a profit in our next NFL arrangement, we won't be in it," Ebersole said. "We can't subsidize another business. We're not a charity."

When NBC officials said similar things a year ago, Tagliabue brushed it off as a negotiating ploy.

"The networks in this context are fairly skilled in stating their positions privately and publicly," he said.

At his news conference Friday, Tagliabue took a much more subdued tone. He simply said the NFL would try to work things out with the network.

The NFL still gets high ratings, but because of the recession, the networks can't change enough for their ads to overcome the huge rights fees.

The $3.65 billion contract signed in 1990 called for each team to get an average of $32 million a year, but it goes up to more than $40 million in 1993.

It's hard to believe NBC would walk away from the NFL, but the network may not be bluffing.

The network revenue figures to go down in 1994. The question is how much it's going to go down.

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