They Have to Fork Over Dough to Get NFL Games on Dish


While the world awaits the Tonya Harding-Nancy Kerrigan confrontation in Norway next Wednesday and Friday, there’s a potential confrontation brewing closer to home.

It’s the NFL vs. sports bars and their patrons, Round 2. The NFL lost Round 1 four years ago. But, trying a different ploy, it is favored to take Round 2.

In 1990, after the NFL announced it would scramble signals, thus cutting off satellite-dish owners of game telecasts, a La Jolla restaurateur, Norman Lebovitz, led a campaign against such a practice.


He enlisted the support of those who religiously go to sports bars on Sundays to watch NFL telecasts not provided to homes by the networks, and he got the NFL’s attention by threatening to have his legions boycott Anheuser-Busch beers. The Anheuser-Busch people in turn persuaded the NFL to change its thinking.

The main complaint by Lebovitz and his backers was that the NFL was offering no alternative. This time it will.

The league will charge satellite dish owners a flat fee for getting unscrambled signals. The price for sports-bar owners will vary, depending on seating capacity.

The big sports bars, such as the Legends chain in Long Beach, Santa Monica and Costa Mesa, naturally will pay more than the neighborhood establishments.

How much will they pay? That’s the $64,000 question.

“It will be reasonable,” NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said. “I think people will be surprised how reasonable it will be, both for the home dish owners and the sports establishments.”

The NFL owners will meet in Orlando, Fla., March 20-25. One of the things to be discussed will be the satellite dish issue and a pricing structure. Prices probably will be announced in May, when the NFL plans to begin selling subscriptions.


If, as Aiello says, the prices are reasonable, complaints will be minimal. But sources say the price will be in the $150 range for individuals, with sports bars paying between several hundred to several thousand.

If prices are that high, get ready for another fight.


What the NFL is doing is not all bad. Satellite dish owners have been getting a free ride for years. Now they’ll simply have to pay for NFL games much as HBO cable and dish subscribers pay for movies.

“I’m glad to see it,” Legends owner John Morris said. “It’s long overdue. As long as it is reasonably priced, I have no problem with it.

“Now I’ll be able to advertise and promote what we offer. It legitimizes our business.”

Aiello said the NFL will work with sports-bar owners who sign up, helping them promote their business.

Another plus, Aiello said, will be that the telecasts will be made easy to find. No more tedious searches through various satellites and transponders.

Tom Whitenack, the owner of the Station, a small neighborhood sports bar in Arcadia, said: “We really don’t make much off our dish. If the price is reasonable for us little guys, we’ll buy it. If it isn’t, we won’t.”


Said Morris: “My main concern is that it will be policed properly. I don’t want be paying and find out a competitor down the street is pirating the signals and not paying.”

Aiello said the unscrambling equipment being supplied by General Instruments of San Diego is sophisticated enough that pirating will “be difficult at worst, impossible at best.”


When the NFL entered into its latest television contract in December, lost among all of Fox’s dollars was the small print that NFL planned to begin scrambling its signals. The NFL conveniently forgot to say anything about that.

Last Thursday, Group W Network Services of Stamford, Conn., announced at a satellite dish convention in Anaheim that it had entered into a five-year agreement with the NFL to provide a package of services, including distributing scrambled signals of Sunday NFL telecasts on Fox and NBC to home dish owners.

The NFL in turn put an announcement late in the day that season packages would be made available to dish owners.


The NFL’s move could serve as a boon to the satellite dish industry, as long as the price structure is reasonable. At least now the uncertainty surrounding NFL telecasts is being eliminated.


The industry was dealt a severe blow in 1986, when HBO and other services began announcing plans to scramble signals and charge to have them unscrambled.

“We call it the crash of ‘86,” said Glenn Gurgiolo, vice president and general manager of Dallas-based Liberty Satellite Sports, formerly Satellite Sports Networks.

What followed was years of illegally pirating signals. Law-abiding citizens who paid up to $8,000 for a satellite dish system would have illegal “chips” installed so that they could still get programming for free.

But as technology continues to make pirating more difficult and at the same time reduce the price of satellite dish systems, the industry is making a comeback.

Gurgiolo, who was among the estimated 3,400 attending the satellite dish convention in Anaheim last week, said there are now 3.6 million homes with dishes nationwide, and that number is growing each day.

Direct TV, a division of Hughes, launched a satellite in December that delivers a signal that can be picked up by a dish 18 inches in diameter and costs $700-$800. It will launch another in April. Primestar, which is owned by six major cable companies, has also launched such a satellite.


Liberty Satellite Sports, which now has 250,000 subscribers, offers 24 regional sports networks such as Prime Ticket for $10 a month.

If you can get any NFL football game you want for about the same, it would be good deal. But the NFL might be more greedy than that.

TV-Radio Notes

The Winter Olympics are averaging a 24.4 prime-time rating through five nights, a 27% increase over the Albertville Games two years ago. . . . What kind of rating will CBS get when Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan take to the ice next Wednesday? It is doubtful it will come close to the all-time record of 60.2 set by the last episode of “MASH” in 1983. But it might come close to the sports record of 49.1 for Super Bowl XVI in 1982, which is No. 4 overall. No. 2 is the “Who Shot J.R.?” episode of “Dallas” in 1980 (53.3), and No. 3 is “Roots,” part VIII in 1977 (51.1). . . . It’s too bad CBS won’t have Harding and Kerrigan live.

Saturday’s pay-per-view boxing card at the Forum, featuring Michael Carbajal against Humberto (Chiquita) Gonzalez, is one well worth the $24.95 asking price. When these two met last March 13, it was the fight of the year. The announcers will be Tom Kelly, Sean O’Grady and La Opinion Sports Editor Fernando Paramo. The telecast begins at 5 p.m. . . . Last year’s fight will be shown on Prime Ticket tonight at 9.

Saturday night’s Sunkist Invitational track meet at the Sports Arena, another good event, will be shown Sunday morning at 9:30 on ESPN. . . . For those in need of a baseball fix, NBC offers the Pepsi All-Star Softball Challenge Saturday at 11:30 a.m.

Former Raider Matt Millen has been hired as a football commentator by Fox. . . . Howie Long will serve as the host of a Fox special, “The World’s Most Dangerous Stunts,” to be televised March 1. . . . NBC has hired Joe Morgan and Bob Uecker as its baseball commentators. Morgan will be paired with Dick Enberg, Uecker with Bob Costas. Uecker has been a Milwaukee Brewer announcer for 23 seasons. . . . XTRA will temporarily use Pete Rose’s syndicated show to fill its 7-9 p.m. time slots, beginning Monday. . . . KMPC’s Joe McDonnell talked with XTRA but has decided to stay at KMPC. A source said XTRA also courted KMPC’s Charlie Tuna before changing its morning lineup. XTRA’s new three-man team of Rick Schwartz, Jeff Prescott and Mike Berger takes over the 5-9 a.m. slot Monday, with the “Loose Cannons,” Steve Hartman and Chet Forte, following them.


Tuesday will be a big day at KMPC. That’s when the latest rating trends come out. If they show another increase, the Autrys might decide not to sell the station after all, a source said. And even if they do sell to Capital Cites, the format still could remain intact. . . . Quipped Robert W. Morgan, who has CBS’ Pat O’Brien filing daily Winter Olympic reports for his morning show on KRTH-FM: “If this goes over big, maybe we’ll go all-sports.”

Sad story: Channel 2’s Rory Markas got Super Bowl star James Washington of the Dallas Cowboys to return to Los Angeles from a Hawaii vacation so he could pay a visit to Juan Herrera, 13, of Oxnard. Herrera, who was dying of cancer, wanted to meet a Cowboy. Markas and Washington met last Saturday at Channel 2 to drive to Oxnard with a camera crew. But right before they were to leave Markas got a call. Herrera had just passed away.