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Fox steals Pam Oliver from ESPN


Yesterday was a big day of comings and goings among women in the sports broadcasting biz.

As long rumored, CBS announced that Martina Navratilova, who did a splendid job of analysis at Wimbledon for Home Box Office, will come aboard for the U.S. Open next month. Meanwhile, HBO snared Nicole Watson, who has reported for Turner's NFL and NBA productions, to join the cable network's "Inside the NFL" show as a feature reporter.

However, the biggest heist of the day was made by Fox, which lured Pam Oliver away from ESPN to join its NFL coverage team.

Oliver, 34, a "SportsCenter" mainstay for the past three years, will leave the full-service ESPN for a network that has only two sports, hockey and football.

"It was not an easy decision to make. I'm not a ratings kind of person, but anytime you have a chance to go from a cable outfit to [over the air], you have to take it," said Oliver. "My father was one of those people who said, 'Are we going to see you?' If they tune in on Sundays, they'll see me."

Though the situation never has been better for women in sports broadcasting, Oliver said there's still room for improvement.

"It [the number of women] is not that much. It's just a couple of women at each place," said Oliver. "I wholeheartedly believe that a woman shouldn't get a job unless she's qualified, and it irks me to no end to see someone get hired and they know nothing about sports. But there are enough of us out there who are talented and qualified to increase our numbers."

Early TBN returns

At the risk of being accused of bashing baseball, it is necessary to report that the overnight national ratings for Saturday night's premiere of The Baseball Network on ABC drew a 6.5 rating and a 13 share of the audience in 32 metered markets around the country.

That's down a full point from the 7.5/15 for the debut week last year. But those numbers, as an ABC spokesman pointed out, are slightly better than those for the second Saturday night telecast last season, which came the week before the Aug. 12 strike and drew a 5.9/12.

Communal viewing

A Nielsen study, commissioned by ABC, shows that more than 23 million adults age 18 or older watch an average of 5 1/2 hours of television in places such as the workplace, college dorms, hotels, airports, hospitals, restaurants and bars.

Viewing in such "out of home" locations could help swell the pool of watching certain types of programs, such as sporting events. Richard Montesano, ABC's senior vice president for market research, said Nielsen surveys had found that 930,000 adult men -- a full rating point worth of people -- watch "Monday Night Football" in places other than their homes.

An ESPN connection

Our thanks to Kenny Albert, guest play-by-play guy for Home Team Sports' Orioles telecasts, for pointing out a coincidence during Sunday's game against Kansas City.

The meeting of Royals outfielder Chris James and Orioles pitcher Jamie Moyer led to an interesting observation. James' brother, Craig, a former Southern Methodist running back, is a college football studio analyst for ESPN. Moyer's father-in-law, Digger Phelps, former basketball coach at Notre Dame, is a college basketball studio analyst at ESPN.

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