However, baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who must negotiate a new network contract in three years, has let his owners know that they've suddenly reached a crossroads. "The fact is that revenues from network television most likely will not be fiat but will decrease," Ueberroth says. "All of baseball must prepare for that and do some worst-case analyses.... There are going to be some very lean times ahead."
Where will the partnership between sports and television be 10 years from now? Here's some educated crystal-ball gazing:
1) As Arledge recently predicted in Advertising Age, some of the lost ad revenue may be made up by exclusive sponsors purchasing and attaching their names to major events. We may live to see the 1996 Burger King World Series or the 1997 Old Spice Stick Deodorant Super Bowl.
2) Cable TV will remain an idea whose time has not yet come. With few exceptions, the networks will still control the major sports events, and cable will still have to make do with the minor ones.
3) You'll see some selected NFL and baseball games on pay-per-view TV, but the crown jewels—the Super Bowl, the World Series, the Olympics—will still be on "free" TV. With commercials, of course.
4) The 1996 Olympics—the Summer Games, at least—will be divvied up by sport and seen on all three networks simultaneously, simply because the freight has become too heavy for any one network to bear. The U.S. Justice Department will have to grant the networks an antitrust exemption so they can bargain for the Olympics together, but why not, if having the Games on TV is considered to be in the national interest.
As for the present, there won't be any more free lunches at the networks or at league headquarters now that Cap Cities is setting the table.
"For years TV sports has been run like the Pentagon—everything was cost overruns," said one network sports exec last week. "From now on it's going to be run like a business."
[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]