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BASEBALL ’94: GOING, GOING . . . GONE : TV : Season’s End Has Little Impact on Networks

TIMES STAFF WRITER

“Our fall will be no different than the last four,” an NBC executive quipped Wednesday.

It will be business as it was at ABC and NBC, now that the baseball season has been canceled. Both networks, which were without baseball the last four years anyway, will simply revert to regular prime-time programming to fill the baseball void.

ABC, which had four regular-season, prime-time telecasts before the strike, was to have televised the new, best-of-five first tier playoffs Oct. 4-9 and the World Series beginning Oct. 22.

NBC, which televised the All-Star game on July 12, was to have carried the two league championship series beginning Oct. 11.

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The financial impact on both networks will be minimal.

After CBS had claimed at least $170 million in losses over the four-year period of its $1.06-billion contract with baseball that expired at the end of the 1993 season, baseball restructured how it does business with national television.

The Baseball Network was established in May, 1993, as a three-way partnership among major league baseball, ABC and NBC. Each contributed a reported $10 million in start-up costs on a six-year agreement.

No rights fee was paid, so ABC and NBC can lose only part of the $10 million each invested. But those loses could still be made up in future years.

Because major league baseball was taking all the risk with this new venture, it was scheduled to get 88% of the profits the first two years of the agreement, and 80% later on. The remaining 12% the first two years was to be split between ABC and NBC.

As of Aug. 1, $130 million worth of advertising revenue had been generated by the Baseball Network, a source said, with another $35 million expected before the start of postseason play. But the Aug. 12 strike stopped sales.

No one at the networks is saying so, but the resumption of the season probably would not have been welcomed. ABC’s prime-time lineup has been gaining on No. 1 CBS and is expected to win the ratings battle this season. NBC is No. 3 but coming off a good week.

Baseball, particularly after the strike, certainly could not have generated the same ratings or revenue as regular prime-time programming.

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But before the strike, things were actually going better than expected for the new Baseball Network.

The rating for NBC’s All-Star telecast was a 15.7, the highest in three years. And ABC’s four regular-season, prime-time telecasts, featuring regionalized coverage, averaged 7.1, up from the 3.5 CBS had been averaging for regular-season telecasts.

Sales revenue was also exceeding expectations. Experts predicted $170 million in advertising revenue for the regular season and playoffs, but it appeared the Baseball Network was on its way to $165 million for postseason play alone.

Baseball will lose that $165 million or so, not the networks. With the networks, it was a case of nothing ventured so nothing lost.

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So what becomes of the money baseball lost?

“Beer companies and other sponsors figure to shift the money they’re not spending on baseball to football and other sports,” said John Mansell, senior analyst for Paul Kagan Associates, Inc.

Locally, John Reardon, station manager for Channel 5, which carries the Dodgers and Angels, said the loss of baseball has affected his station, although he could not estimate how much. Reardon said some of the lost baseball spots can be moved around to King telecasts and news broadcasts.

“We just hope this all can be resolved before next year,” he said.

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