Baseball could hurt Fox affiliates


Like everyone else, Steve Marks, general manager at Baltimore's Fox affiliate Channel 45, is waiting to see what shakes out before he passes judgment on any Fox plan to acquire the rights to baseball telecasts next season, when The Baseball Network goes the way of the dinosaur and the $1 coin.

Fox, which created a sports division in the past 18 months with NFL and NHL telecasts, is believed to be one of the most interested suitors of baseball. But some of its affiliates, many of which took hits from this spring's hockey coverage, may be wary about taking on the grand old game, particularly if it cuts into lucrative weekend revenues.

"At this particular time, there's nothing in front of us. We don't know what Fox would be offering us as an affiliate, so it's hard to say," said Marks.

A report in the current Broadcasting and Cable magazine indicated that some Fox affiliates would be less than friendly to the prospect of Saturday afternoon baseball on their stations for a very good reason: less money.

Fox is largely made up of formerly independent stations that air the network's 15 hours of prime-time shows and its lucrative children's programming schedule, but keep the rest of the week to themselves to air movies, as well as locally produced and syndicated shows, thus retaining all the advertising revenue gathered from those shows.

The NFL, with its double-digit ratings and appeal to the 18-54 male demographic, is a no-brainer for any station manager, even if he has to share revenue with the network. But Broadcasting and Cable said hockey cut into revenue for 12 Fox stations, and Marks said Channel 45 took in less money from the NHL than it did with the Sunday afternoon movie package it ran the year before.

So why would a station manager want to run baseball, whose national season premiere last Saturday finished eighth among nine prime-time shows that night, and lose the revenues it could get from airing professional wrestling or reruns on a Saturday afternoon?

The compromise, Marks said, could be a package similar to the occasional Saturday telecasts on CBS. The affiliates could keep their revenue, but would earn scorn from baseball purists who long for the return of the Game of the Week.

"As a purist, I happen to agree that the Game of the Week should come back," Marks said. "From a selfish viewer standpoint, I want to see baseball every Saturday afternoon, but from a guy who's got to run a business, I might just want the World Series."

Getting no kicks

Wouldn't you know it: The U.S. men's soccer team makes its strongest showing in an international tournament in years, reaching the semifinals of the Copa America tournament in Uruguay tonight, and you can't see it.

Unfortunately for area futbol fans, that's the situation for the 8:30 p.m. match against Brazil. ESPN does not have the rights to this tournament, and while Home Team Sports is an affiliate of the Prime Network, it is not an affiliate of the Spanish-language Prime DePortiva network, a subsidiary of Prime.

It is available on pay-per-view. At least two bars in the city plan to carry the game: Tommy's Bar and Restaurant, 200 S. Conklin St., and Bogart's, 2706 Dillon St.

Sports guys of the roundtable

After the Orioles play Minnesota today, Josh Lewin convenes a round table of local sportscasters on "Sports Line," on WBAL (1090 AM) at 7 p.m., including Channel 2's Scott Garceau and Keith Mills, Channel 11's Gerry Sandusky and Mark Viviano, Channel 13's Chris Ely and Channel 45's Bruce Cunningham.

Rumors abound that Channel 13's John Buren has the same affinity for round-table discussions that Don King has for hair-care products.

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