Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals between the Colorado Avalanche and the New Jersey Devils could have proved decisive. But Baltimore-area viewers almost weren't able to see it last night, because of a spat between ABC and WMAR.
In this standoff, the network blinked.
WMAR had arranged to air the inaugural game of the Major League Lacrosse, between the Baltimore Bayhawks and the Long Island Lizards.
Station officials say they decided to broadcast the lacrosse game long before ABC released its NHL playoff schedule. But for the past few days, ABC said it wouldn't give permission to WMAR, its Baltimore affiliate, to transfer rights to air the game on another channel.
"It's unfortunate," said Drew Berry, general manager for WMAR (Channel 2), before the switch was made. "I was hoping that ABC would do what they've done in the past, and find a secondary carrier for those fans who want to watch the program. But I don't control that."
Late yesterday afternoon, however, after a reporter's inquiries, ABC Sports switched its stance. The game was telecast by Comcast and TCI cable systems, both on Channel 8.
"We've done this plenty of times before," said Michael Workman, director of programming for Comcast cable's mid-Atlantic division. "What was new here was ABC deciding not to let us have it."
Jim Esposito, an official with ABC Sports who handles affiliates, informed Berry and Workman that the network had shifted. "They had a change of heart," a relieved Berry said late yesterday.
As recently as Tuesday night, WMAR had advertised, in a caption that crept across the bottom of the screen, that the game would be carried on CN8. That cable station is available on Comcast cable systems in much of the suburban Baltimore area.
But WMAR had not yet received formal word that it could give Comcast those broadcast rights. And, within the past 48 hours, officials at ABC Sports had told WMAR no.
"In general, we expect all of our stations to carry all of our programming," Mark Mandel, vice president of media relations for ABC Sports, said yesterday morning. "That's why they're affiliates. This is the case here."
WMAR has pushed to boost how much lacrosse it carries, as the sport attracts strong interest. In the past, Comcast has been eager to find displaced sporting events a home. After the switch, the cable provider did once again.