Ebersol in the Middle of Baseball Turmoil

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It has been a hard-hitting week or so for the sports television business.

When the word came out late last week that NBC and ABC were dropping baseball after this season, Dick Ebersol, the president of NBC sports, started swinging.

“We have done everything to be good partners, and we’ve been treated like scum,” he said of the people running baseball these days.

Then, taking a swipe at Fox, he was quoted as saying, “Baseball probably thinks that it has another sucker like CBS in Fox to pay a big rights fee. . . . They’re trading the promotion of the No. 1 and 2 networks for a pushcart.”


Then came this from David Hill, the president of Fox sports: “I just see it as Little Dickie thrashing about. He’s invested so much of himself in the Baseball Network, he’s being puerile. Little Dickie was just reacting when he said all that stuff. Why on earth was he talking about Fox when we’re sideline observers? It blew us away.”

Ebersol said he had to look up the meaning of puerile , which means juvenile, immature or childish.

Ebersol also took criticism from some New York sports television columnists because he had chosen to hand-deliver an exclusive on the demise of the Baseball Network to USA Today’s Rudy Martzke.

Ebersol later said, “It’s a decision I’ll just have to live with.”


Ebersol on Wednesday got on a conference call with reporters. He was in London, where NBC begins its Wimbledon coverage this weekend, but he wasn’t on the call to talk baseball, or even tennis.

He was announcing that NBC was changing its No. 1 football TV team to a three-man format with Dick Enberg, Paul Maguire and newcomer Phil Simms.

That’s bad news for Bob Trumpy fans, since he is being dropped to the No. 3 or 4 team with Tom Hammond.

The new No. 2 team is Marv Albert and Cris Collinsworth.

Maybe it was only a coincidence, but it seemed this announcement might have been timed to take some heat off Ebersol.


Nothing like fresh news to make old news go away.

But it didn’t work.

During the conference call, which also included Enberg, Maguire and Simms, Ebersol initially declined to take questions about the baseball situation, then relented.

Ebersol said he regretted “a little of the anger” he had shown in his response to the demise of the Baseball Network, but he said he still can’t get over the betrayal by baseball.

“This was personally the most anguishing thing I’ve been involved in in this business,” he said.

NBC and ABC, because they are already planning next year’s prime-time fall schedule, needed to know from baseball whether the Baseball Network was a go beyond this season. They never got the word, one way or another, so they bowed out. Acting Commissioner Bud Selig has said baseball had until Nov. 1 to answer the networks.

Ebersol said his reference to Fox as a pushcart was taken out of context. He said that he was talking numerically, that ABC and NBC on any given night bring in a combined 22 or 23 rating while Fox, with a 7 or so, is a pushcart by comparison.


Other highlights from Wednesday’s NBC conference call:

--Ebersol said Los Angeles, like it or not, will get a heavy dose of Oakland Raider games next season.


--Ebersol said he told Trumpy several months ago about a possible change with the No. 1 NFL announcing team. Executive producer Tommy Roy gave him the specifics on Tuesday.

Maguire said he also talked with Trumpy. “He wished us luck, and I know he was sincere,” Maguire said. “He’s that type of guy.”

--NBC likes using big names, but Ebersol said he didn’t want to put too much pressure on retired NFL quarterback Simms, thus Maguire was added as well. “We’ve put too much pressure on newcomers before,” Ebersol said. Yeah, like Bill Walsh.

--Simms said he had no idea he would end up on the No. 1 team when he signed with NBC in March.

--Ebersol said a decision on which network, NBC or ABC, will televise the World Series won’t be made until after the All-Star game July 11. ABC was scheduled to televise the World Series last year, with NBC to show this year’s. But the strike wiped out the 1994 Series.


TV-Radio Notes

Channel 9 is still hoping to televise Raider exhibitions, beginning Aug. 5 in Dallas and including an Aug. 12 Raider-St. Louis Ram game. . . . Too bad things didn’t work out between Brett Lewis and Channel 4. Nice guy, with plenty of talent. News director Bill Lord said news reporter Conan Nolan will fill in on sports until a replacement is found. . . . One opening Lewis might want to look into is at Channel 9. Weekend sportscaster Mark Steines is leaving to pursue a career in films.


Despite the financial troubles of Chris Gibbs, the president of the Long Beach Barracuda of the Western Baseball League and the backer of the “McDonnell-Douglas Show” on KMAX-FM, Joe McDonnell and Doug Krikorian will remain on the air, program director Keith James said, although they’re taking Monday and Tuesday off because of the Fourth of July holiday. “The only change is, we will no longer carry Barracuda games,” James said.

Fox was bragging about a 3.6 national rating for its final NHL telecast Saturday, which placed 85th among prime-time programs last week. Maybe that’s not bad for a “pushcart” network. . . . Los Angeles viewers weren’t happy about what Channel 11 did with Fox’s telecast of Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals on Saturday. There were several voice-mail complaints, mainly because Channel 11, taking a local news break, preempted an interview with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, which the rest of the nation saw. Another complaint had to do with the station running a promo for the show “Cops” at the bottom of the screen while the game was still going on.

Roy Englebrecht’s SportsCasters Camp, now in its 11th year, will be held in Long Beach July 20-25 at a cost of $995. Englebrecht, for the first time, is also offering a Sportscaster Camp for Kids in Long Beach July 6-10 for $845. Details: (800) 345-8730.