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High Cost of Re-Signing Costas

April 05, 2002|Larry Stewart

Bob Costas got a sweet new deal from HBO this week, but not without some fallout.

With Costas moving into a co-host role on "Inside the NFL," something had to give. Gone are long-time co-hosts Len Dawson and Nick Buoniconti, along with analyst Jerry Glanville.

HBO President Ross Greenburg said letting those three go was the hardest part of the Costas deal.

But that's not the only problem. A role on "Inside the NFL" is something 14-year HBO incumbent Jim Lampley had been seeking.

"It's smart to be moving toward a more aggressive editorial style for the show," Lampley said Thursday. "It's something I suggested a number of times over the last 14 years."

Lampley figured he might be involved if a change was made, but that was not the case.

"They just never did it for me," he said.

Rick Bernstein, the executive producer of HBO Sports, said: "There's never been any question of Jim's credentials or potential to host any show for HBO. He's the anchor of our boxing series, the highest-rated sports programs that we put on the air, and we value a great deal everything he brings to our production."

Word initially was that Lampley was upset and he was going to meet next week with George Greenberg, the executive vice president of production for Fox Sports Net, about making a move.

Lampley said that was not the case. He said he would be meeting with Greenberg, a longtime friend, but only to discuss the possibility of selling a documentary about a Pennsylvania high school football coach that Lampley's production company has made.

"It will be some time from now before I consider doing anything different than what I'm doing now," he said. "There's no story there."

But Lampley was perplexed that his good friend James Brown will be bumped as the host of HBO's four biggest pay-per-view fights to make room for Costas as host. Boxing is not a sport Costas has been associated with.

Brown wasn't ranting when contacted Thursday. But he did say he was surprised a few months ago to hear that Bryant Gumbel or Costas might be the host of the June 8 fight between Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson at Memphis, Tenn., which probably will be a joint production between HBO and Showtime.

Brown said he called Greenburg at the time and was assured everything was fine, that he would be the host.

"So I was a little surprised this week to read that Bob would be the host of that fight," Brown said. "But if that's what it took to land a major talent like Bob, then that's fine by me. I'm sure room for my talents will be made."

Brown thought at least he would be the host of the Fernando Vargas-Oscar De La Hoya fight May 4, but with Thursday's postponement, that is up in the air.

Brown still could end up as the host of the Lewis-Tyson fight. It's the same day as the Belmont Stakes on NBC, and if a horse is going for the Triple Crown, Costas said he may instead opt to serve as the host of NBC's coverage. Or he might work both events if logistically possible.

Costas' Next Step

Costas' new three-year contract with HBO, which reportedly will pay him about $2 million a year, calls for him to continue as the host of "On the Record" and be involved in a number of other projects. But the re-signing only took care of the cable element.

"It's cable exclusive, but the broadcasting part of the jigsaw puzzle is wide open," Costas said. "It might be NBC. It might not be NBC."

Costas has at least one other option.

"I'd be a fool if there wasn't another option," he said. "If NBC was the only option and I walked around saying, 'You know maybe I don't feel like it,' I'd be thrown out of the negotiators' union, if there is such a thing."

With no apparent position available for Costas at CBS or Fox, ABC seems the most logical place. Costas' duties there might include serving as host of ABC's NBA coverage, which includes only 15 regular-season games and the Finals.

There also has been speculation that Costas could sign with ABC and still host the Olympics for NBC.

What About Baseball?

ABC does not have Major League Baseball, and there was a time that baseball play-by-play would be a top lure for Costas. That's not the case anymore.

"If the circumstances were exactly right, I know I would enjoy doing baseball play-by-play again," he said. "But it is not something that drives any deal at this point. If I have a chance to do it and it's the right circumstance then I will. But I don't see myself doing it in the near future."

Asked if his interest in baseball has waned, Costas said: "Do I still like it and do I still enjoy doing it? Absolutely. [But] I think anyone who really cares about the game and is at all aware of its present circumstances, has to feel ambivalently about it. And I do.... I don't embrace it 100% like I used to."

Gearing Up

Chris Pook, the president and CEO of CART and the founder of the Long Beach Grand Prix, this week called the recent television coverage of the race "a disaster."

"The product people saw in person and the product people saw in their homes were two different products," he said.

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