SAY IT ISN'T SO
To the Columbia Broadcasting System, which put up less than 2% of its 1963 revenue to buy 80% of the New York Yankees (see page 12), the transaction may have been a piddling deal, financially speaking. To the sports fan the implications are far from trivial.
There is no question that television can be, and to a great extent has been, a friend of the fan. Certainly it has vastly expanded the sporting horizons of the entire nation. But when it controls sport it ruins it. Only a few years ago it took over boxing, saturated the nation's screens with it and, once it was no longer profitable, abandoned it. It will be years before boxing climbs back.
We are already nervous about the grip TV is acquiring on professional football, but the grip has at least been less than outright ownership. (Up to now, that is.) We are apprehensive because a sport controlled by TV could evolve into a tasteless form of entertainment. The distinction between sport and entertainment may not be apparent to the world of show business but it is to us. And if you want to sense the distinction, watch The Beverly Hillbillies some night and then watch a baseball game.
The fact is that the television industry has yet to establish that it cares a whit about the integrity of the sports it presents—whether professional wrestling or prizefighting. Nor have the quiz scandals of a few years ago been altogether forgotten. Entrust baseball to such an environment? Say it isn't so.
The very manner in which the sale was rammed through in a secret power play, involving a previously mysterious extension of Ford Frick's tenure as baseball commissioner (Ford said yes again), gives no occasion for confidence in the American League's new look. Arthur Allyn, owner of the Chicago White Sox and one of the two American League owners to vote against the sale, holds, in fact, that league approval of the sale was "illegal under our constitution," which requires "a unanimous vote on a vote by telephone, a unanimous vote on a vote by telegraph and three days' notice on any vote unless there is unanimous consent to consider the question." None of these conditions were fulfilled.
To be sure, there is nothing new about the involvement of TV interests in baseball. On regional or statewide scales such interests are involved in the Detroit Tigers, the Houston Colts and the Los Angeles Angels. But none of these are to be compared with the magnitude of CBS and none of their teams are to be compared with the Yankees.
The Yankees have long dominated the American League, in part because they draw so well on the road—they have pulled many lesser teams out of financial holes. Now, it would seem, CBS must dominate the league.
If TV ownership of the Yankees is proper, what would be wrong with CBS and other networks bidding for the best hockey teams, the best basketball teams and the best pro football teams? What would be wrong then with show business taking over all profitable aspects of sport? One thing that would be wrong is that sport might well end up where Milton Berle and boxing are now.
One must wonder, too, what effect this arrangement will have on other tenants of Yankee Stadium. Would CBS refuse to rent out the Stadium for a heavyweight championship fight unless it were given the broadcasting rights? It very well could. How much would CBS have to say about pro football teams anxious to play in the Stadium? Quite a bit.