NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol yesterday accused baseball officials of reneging on at least two oral pledges to protect The Baseball Network, and said the sport is in a "completely confused state."
During a conference call, Ebersol suggested that baseball leadership -- including acting commissioner Bud Selig -- effectively scuttled The Baseball Network project, a joint venture among baseball, NBC and ABC, by delaying decisions on the venture's future.
"On two specific occasions, the bodies responsible for determining the course of baseball said words that were very specific," said Ebersol. "There's no question that the economics realities of baseball have changed a lot in a year, but from where I'm coming from, a man's word is never something that's to be given in convenience."
Reached in his office in Milwaukee last night, Selig declined to comment on Ebersol's specific charges, saying, "All we said was we wanted to be good partners. Partnerships are two-way streets."
Ebersol said NBC would attempt to keep baseball officials from negotiating with Fox or CBS before the exclusive bargaining period ends Sept. 29 and would not bid on a new contract with baseball.
"We would stand by our legal contractual commitment and we would hope that everybody would stand by theirs," said Ebersol. "I don't see us being in a rights situation with baseball. That would be too incongruous after all of the promises and commitments that were made."
Ebersol and his ABC counterpart, Dennis Swanson, last week announced that the two networks would pull out of The Baseball Network after this season, two years into a six-year contract.
The two men said the decision to leave the project was made after they repeatedly asked baseball officials for word on whether they would be interested in continuing the partnership with the two networks.
Ebersol said he and Swanson had been waiting since early April for an answer, so that their networks' sales and programming departments could plan fall schedules and set ad rates for this year and next, but got no word from baseball.
"It was just sort of delay, delay, delay. I made innumerable airplane flights and what sounded like hundreds of phone calls to reach a resolution," said Ebersol.
Finally, the two networks pulled out of the deal, leaving baseball presumably to go with CBS or Fox, both of which have expressed interest in obtaining the rights, if baseball management and the players union reach a collective bargaining agreement. Selig denied rumors that baseball already has talked with Fox or CBS.
Ebersol, who said last week that ABC and NBC had been treated like "scum," said he regretted the tenor of his comments.
"This is the most personal I've felt about anything in business in my life," said Ebersol. "Baseball was my first love as a kid. Unfortunately, that confused state seems to permeate baseball. I didn't think it was going to engulf NBC Sports and me in it."