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SPORTS WEEKEND | TV / RADIO

Classy Daniels to Be Missed by Many

March 10, 2000|LARRY STEWART

These days it is taken for granted that every Laker and King game is televised. That wasn't the case before 1985. Few home games were televised.

The creation of Prime Ticket, which became Prime Sports, then Fox Sports West and finally Fox Sports Net Los Angeles, enabled every home game to be televised.

Bill Daniels, the founder of Prime Ticket, died Tuesday at Eisenhower Hospital in Rancho Mirage. Daniels suffered a ruptured colon several years ago and never fully recovered. He was 79.

Daniels' estate is valued at $1.1 billion. He was not only the nicest, classiest billionaire I've ever met, he was simply one of the nicest, classiest people I've ever met. He was a reporter's dream. Ask him a question, he'd give you a straight answer.

When Bruce McNall needed Daniels' financial help to acquire Wayne Gretzky for the Kings, Daniels spelled out his involvement and how much more in TV rights he would have to pay.

Sometimes he was too honest.

After Daniels agreed to terms to sell Prime Ticket to TCI in 1994, he explained the deal in detail in an interview. He said with stock options it was worth about $260 million. His initial investment was $5 million.

Lawyers were soon on the phone explaining that Daniels had been too open and that, because of a confidentiality clause, if such details of the sale got out it could ruin the deal. A compromise was reached that appeased the lawyers.

When Daniels sold Prime Ticket, he gave out about $12 million in bonuses to the employees. Fifteen top people shared $10 million.

Such generosity was typical. In 1984, he sold a cable system in Anchorage, Alaska, for $11 million. He kept $5 million and gave $6 million to associates. He once contributed $22 million to the University of Denver.

His partner in the creation of Prime Ticket was Jerry Buss.

"Bill came into my office about a year before we launched Prime Ticket," Buss recalled this week. "I had some other offers to start a regional sports network, one from Chuck Dolan and another from the Washington Post. But Bill and his right-hand man, Tony Acone, won me over."

Buss got 50% of the company, and Daniels got the rights to the Lakers, the Kings, the soccer Lazers and Forum boxing. Because of his fondness for Daniels, Buss later sold him 5% of the Lakers. At the time, Buss' former wife was the only other minority owner.

Magic Johnson (4%) and Philip Anschutz (25%) have since become other minority owners.

Buss and Daniels also had a kinship because both were from Wyoming--Buss from Kremerer (pop. 3,000), Daniels from Casper (pop. 48,000). Daniels got into the cable television business in 1952 when he and three engineer friends wired Casper and surrounding areas so people there could get television signals from a Denver station. It cost $150--a huge fee for that time--to hook up to cable and $7.50 a month after that.

Daniels was also a sports team owner. He was the first owner of the Los Angeles Express of the old U.S. Football League and he also owned the L.A. and Utah Stars of the ABA, a team coached by Bill Sharman. Daniels lost $5 million on the Stars and was forced into bankruptcy. Five years later, when he again had money, he refunded $750,000 to season-ticket holders.

How many sports owners would do that?

A WORTHY SPOKESMAN

James Worthy these days is almost doing as well as his former team, the Lakers. This week Al McGuire retired because he suffers from anemia, a blood disorder. McGuire is so weak he needs assistance in getting around. With McGuire's departure, Worthy was elevated to the No. 2 CBS announcing team working the NCAA tournament. He'll be paired with Dick Enberg.

"As much as I relish getting the opportunity to work with Dick Enberg, this is not an assignment that I relish getting," Worthy said. "I've been close with Al since he used to come down to Chapel Hill [N.C.] to do our games."

For the second year, Worthy is serving as a spokesman for DirecTV's NCAA tournament supplemental package--making appearances, doing interviews and promos. The package that gives DirecTV subscribers games CBS does not televise during the first three rounds--as many as 37--is priced at $49. "Sometimes you have to pay that much for one fight," Worthy said. Individual games go for $19.

LOWERING THE BOOM

Boomer Esiason, on his firing by ABC, told One-on-One radio's Jay Mariotti: "Things got to be very tension-filled behind the scenes, and it's probably better off we go our merry ways." Of partner Al Michaels, he said, "Right now he has what I think he's always wanted, and that's a single-man booth."

SHORT WAVES

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