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Sponsor Says NFL, Networks Have Postponed Scrambling

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A high-ranking official of one of the NFL’s biggest advertisers said Thursday that, after meeting with executives of Anheuser-Busch, Inc., the league had postponed indefinitely its “scrambling” of fall telecasts.

Fearing a prolonged national boycott of Anheuser-Busch products, the official said the league and the networks had agreed not to scramble, at least for “the immediate future.”

“Our position is that we’re opposed to any scrambling by the networks,” said Tom Lange, a spokesman for Anheuser-Busch, which spent $4.5 million in commercial sponsorship of last year’s Super Bowl and an undisclosed sum on other games.

“We have spoken with the networks and the NFL to communicate our concerns, as well as the concerns of fans and retailers who have contacted us. And we have now learned that neither CBS nor NBC have immediate plans to scramble their signals.”

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Lange, who said the announcement had been coordinated through the office of Charles B. Fruit, vice president of media and sports marketing for Anheuser-Busch, added that CBS plans a “major” announcement today in regard to scrambling.

However, a CBS official contacted Thursday night said “no comment” to questions about the policy, which was scheduled to take effect on his network with the start of the regular season.

“I don’t want to be quoted on anything at this point,” said Jay Rosenstein, vice president of programming for CBS Sports. “No comment is the only thing I can say.”

United Press International reported Thursday night that NBC had canceled its plans to scramble. Susan Kerr, a spokeswoman for CBS, was quoted by UPI as saying her network will make its announcement today at a New York press conference.

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But NBC official Joe Rutledge, reached in New York Thursday night, said that, as far as he knew, NBC’s scrambling of NFL games--which was not expected to start until midseason anyway--had not been rescinded.

“I can tell you that as of (Thursday) morning, 9:30, New York time, when we all had a meeting about this, NBC was committed to scrambling,” Rutledge said. “And furthermore, it is our intention to scramble, provided we can finish the technology by the middle of the season.”

NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, speaking for the first time on the subject, said Wednesday that scrambling was done at the urging of major advertisers--which Anheuser-Busch denied.

League spokesman Jim Heffernan said he knew of “no conversations between the NFL and Anheuser-Busch,” but added, “That doesn’t really mean anything. . . . I’m just not aware of any. And if I was, I probably couldn’t comment anyway. But I also know of no announcement by the league.”

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In San Diego, Norman Lebovitz, the president of the newly formed Assn. for Sports Fans’ Rights, said that his organization--which launched the national boycott of Anheuser-Busch on Wednesday--had reached a membership “in the thousands.” Lebovitz said he had joined forces with the Miami-based United Sports Fans of America and with Los Angeles interests.

“Unless we have an announcement that scrambling has been canceled--totally and unequivocally--the boycott is still on,” said Lebovitz, whose chain of restaurants called Sluggo’s champion a Chicago theme and draw large crowds to satellite showings of Cubs and Bears games.


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