Net vote puts baseball on path toward leveling playing field


NEW YORK -- News of a unanimous vote of major-league baseball owners to cede control of their Internet broadcast rights back in January was glossed over in many media circles, but not so fast, said commissioner Bud Selig.

Indeed, Selig, speaking this week at a seminar on sports on television and radio, believes that the action and the unanimity of the vote itself have important implications for baseball's future.

"Just the thing we did [in] January this year ... would have been unheard of five or 10 years ago," Selig said. "We would have had a major revolution. This time, it went through smoothly. I think that's a sign of recognition of the problem and what we have to do to correct the problem."

The "problem" of which Selig speaks is the wildly disparate sums of broadcasting dollars that go to the 30 clubs. Though they all share equally money from the national contract, estimated at around $15 million a team last year, each club makes its own local deals.

The fluctuation between them is enormous, from the top end and nearly $60 million last year for the New York Yankees to more than $20 million for the Orioles to about $3 million for the Montreal Expos at the bottom.

Not surprisingly, the revenue gap helps teams in bigger markets offer big salaries to players, while keeping smaller market teams scrambling. Selig, who formally took over as commissioner almost two years ago, has been preaching the need to close that gap.

"It's a situation that has exacerbated faster than any of us thought. I've worried about it the last 10 or 15 years, but even I didn't think it would get to the level that it has," said Selig, the former Milwaukee Brewers owner. "A fan has two things: hope and faith. It's my job to restore hope and faith to as many places as possible. Quite frankly, that's underway."

The Internet vote may be worth hundreds of millions of dollars to baseball in the future, and Selig has the right to distribute that wealth as he sees fit.

In time, if hope and faith return to places like Minnesota or Kansas City or Montreal, Selig's ability to get the owners to coalesce behind something that serves the greater good may be seen in much the same way former NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle's move in 1961 to get the league's owners to pool national television rights.

"When we look back on the 20th century, Pete Rozelle, at the age of 33 or 34, getting the clubs to do what he did is one of the more remarkable things in terms of vision and courage," Selig said. "It's the strength of the league and all of us are moving in that direction."

And the winners are

Fox giddily accepted a record 13 Sports Emmy awards Wednesday, including an unprecedented sweep of the seven major categories.

James Brown (studio host), Joe Buck (play-by-play), Terry Bradshaw (studio analyst) and John Madden (game analyst) were all named best in their respective fields, Madden for the 13th time. The network also claimed Emmys for best sports special for its coverage of last year's baseball All-Star Game, for best sports series for its weekly baseball package and for best studio show for its baseball pre-game show.

On the heels of their sweeping win, Fox Sports president David Hill relinquished that post to executive producer Ed Goren, who has been in that role since the division was formed in 1994. Hill will remain chairman and CEO of the Fox television group.

NBC, which captured five Emmys, won for best live event turnaround for its presentation of the World Track and Field championships, and for edited sports special for the Ironman triathlon.

Among HBO's four wins was an Emmy for its documentary on Johnny Unitas, which won for best music composition. The channel's "Real Sports" won the outstanding sports journalism award for a story on counterfeit golf clubs. ESPN received four awards, including one for best edited series, for the "SportsCentury" project, as well as for their "First and Ten" marker for football.

Active seniors

The PGA Tour this week packed up its Senior PGA tour package and marched it across the video street from ESPN to CNBC for four years, starting next year.

CNBC, largely a business channel seen in approximately 72 million homes -- five million fewer homes than ESPN -- has agreed to carry 33 tour events, nine more than ESPN is airing, mostly at 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays, either live or on tape.

CNBC officials announced that PAX-TV, a hybrid broadcast and cable network, will air early round coverage on Friday afternoons.

Local golf fans will be interested to know that the State Farm Classic, held in Columbia in July, is a part of the new CNBC deal.

A 'SportsCenter' moment

During the New York seminar, both Selig, and his basketball counterpart, NBA commissioner David Stern, aimed darts at some "SportsCenter" anchors and at their perceived tendency to entertain rather than inform.

"I think they need a producer or director to them to calm it down, after the first one-liner, or even the second or third or fourth," Stern said. "I guess that's what the people watching ESPN want, and that's what they sell, although I'm not sure of that. Our experience is that it's all about the game."

Said Selig: "A certain amount of humor is fine ... but the fact is that sports fans do tune in to see what the scores are. They want to know how their teams did. I would say, yes, they're entertainers, to some degree, but they're also -- whether they like it or not -- journalists. And I worry a little bit sometimes, because I think the line has been crossed, quite candidly, more than it should be."

Around the dial

Channel 2's lacrosse game of the week, Towson-Johns Hopkins, (3 p.m. tomorrow) bounces ABC's NHL playoff telecast, but given what hockey's local ratings have been lately, it's not very likely that anyone is going to miss it. And besides, the game is available on Washington's Channel 7.

In a similar vein, CBS' coverage of this weekend's Houston Open golf tournament will be joined in progress both tomorrow and Sunday, because Channel 13 is carrying the Orioles-Angels games both days. If you need your links fix, turn to Channel 9 out of Washington at 3 p.m. each day.

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