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Baseball's TV schedule stuck in holding pattern


We should know by week's end the precise network and local baseball telecast schedule, but until then, all hands and all plans are on hold.

One of the things that will have to be decided immediately is if ESPN will retain the exclusive telecast of Opening Night games that it was to have under the terms of its contract with Major League Baseball.

As it is, ESPN will replace tonight's scheduled Wednesday game with replays of last year's Home Run Derby and Old-Timers game from Pittsburgh at 8 p.m.

This week's edition of "Sunday Night Baseball" will go off as planned, though the game will be from the Pacific Coast League, between the Las Vegas Stars and Phoenix Firebirds, with Jon Miller and Joe Morgan.

Closer to home, the folks at Home Team Sports, who produce the "Orioles TV" network for themselves and channels 13 and 54, hope to know their schedule within the next few days.

Of significant interest to them will be which day of the week the game in which Cal Ripken potentially breaks Lou Gehrig's consecutive-games streak falls on.

If the game is a Wednesday or a Sunday, when ESPN has national exclusivity, HTS still would be permitted to carry the game, but not channels 13 or 54. If, however, the game falls on a Friday, a day covered by The Baseball Network, "Orioles TV" would be shut out of the mix.

Prehistoric Packer

One wonders if, when he leaves a basketball gym, Billy Packer's knuckles don't scrape the ground and if he doesn't switch back into his regular cave man apparel, what with his Stone Age thinking.

Through his mouthpiece, USA Today columnist Rudy Martzke, Packer delivered a nasty broadside against women's basketball the other day.

When told that national overnight ratings for Sunday's women's title game were nearly double the numbers of the 1994 final, while overnight numbers for the men's semifinals were slightly down, Packer said, "You're telling me that twice as many people watched the women's title game than watched [men's] Kentucky-Arkansas in the regular season? And more people watched the women's game than Bob Hope's golf tournament? No way."

He continued: "Then I can't see anyone paying attention to any of the ratings. The TV ratings are parallel to the SAT scores. They are both used by lazy people who don't have the time to LTC talk about reality."

Believe it or not, Billy, the interest level in women's basketball is growing. For instance, Sunday's Connecticut-Tennessee game more than doubled the premiere of NHL hockey on Fox in the national overnights, even as the audience for Saturday's men's semifinals, though significantly larger than the women's game, was down from the year before.

ESPN, which is taking over the women's tournament from CBS, reported that its coverage of the four women's regional finals outdrew its hockey coverage, and CBS sold out the 40 advertising spots for the women's Final Four in January, and that's something that even a Keynesian economist like Packer can understand.

Or perhaps Packer is into another kind of reality: that of blatant sexism.

Shaking out the ratings

The Final Four matchups were certainly intriguing enough, but the local ratings suggest that the Baltimore audience was under-whelmed, according to Nielsen data from Channel 11's Sharon Walz, this week's sole and official "On the Air" ratings provider.

For instance, Saturday's first semifinal, matching UCLA and Oklahoma State, did a 10.8 rating and 20 share of the audience for Channel 13, and the second game, North Carolina-Arkansas, got a 13.8/23. Those are good, but not exactly what one might expect from such a big event.

Monday's championship game, with UCLA topping Arkansas, got a 19.9/29, which is solid, but well below the Academy Awards, which one week earlier drew a 28.1/46 on Channel 2. With each rating point equaling approximately 10,000 homes in Baltimore, nearly 90,000 more homes watched the Oscars than the title game.

One more piece of bad news for Packer: the women's game did a 6.4/15, handily drubbing the Phoenix-San Antonio NBA game on Channel 11 (3.9/10), and the finals of the Freeport Classic (4.7/10) also on WBAL, the closest finishers.

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