"I figured that if these away-from-home games could be handled by one outfit, my own, instead of 16 separate ones," says Bailey, "I could reduce costs by 30%. That would mean a total saving of about $400,000. I also figured that if I could get a major league baseball account I could set up Sports Network Incorporated."
The built-with-wire octopus behind the entire television industry is A.T.&T., whose tentacles are the cables and the microwaves needed to transmit the sight and sound of a TV show from city to city. A.T.&T.'s facilities are for rent, roughly on this basis, says Bailey: to the one-shot "occasional" user for $1 per mile per hour and to the "contract" user for $35 per mile per month per consecutive eight-hour day—which is, assuming the contract is fully utilized, one-eighth the occasional rate. If he could contract to handle all major league road-game telecasts, Bailey figured he could use the contract rate.
"But that's where the problem comes in," says Bailey. "You've got to know how to use the facilities to get the most out of the wholesale rate."
A congress of 50 representatives of sponsors, ad agencies and baseball clubs met at Chicago's Hotel Knickerbocker in December 1955 to hear Bailey's claims (that he could save them money) and review Bailey's credentials (20 years in the broadcasting business). They were impressed, and the deal that put Bailey into business for himself was soon closed. In its first year of operation, 1956, Sports Network signed up to handle the telecasting of 300 major league baseball games. It also produced 1,200 radio broadcasts.
With the major league baseball teams giving him a solid nut of operating revenue and allowing him to rent transmission facilities at the contract rate, Bailey was able to expand quickly—the very first afternoon, in fact. The morning of its first day SNI consisted of Bailey and an assistant working in a room loaned to them by Bailey's lawyer, Stuart Sprague. Aghast at how much time Bailey was spending on his telephone, Sprague got rid of the two squatters within a few hours by finding an office for them downstairs in the same building.
Before long Sports Network needed all the office space it could get. In the fall of 1956 it began televising Cleveland Brown football games, soon picked up Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference basketball and then moved on to handle any event in which there appeared to be sponsor interest. SNI endeared itself forever to basketball fans when it covered the NCAA final from Louisville in 1963, the year Loyola of Chicago rallied in the second half to upset presumably invincible Cincinnati. This telecast came up with an upset of its own. It went on against Have Gun, Will Travel and Gunsmoke and beat them both in the ratings.
One of the reasons that Bailey's company has thrived is that if he had the time he would be his own best audience. "I live and breathe sports," he says. "I always have." His father owned the Macon, Ga. baseball team of the old Sally League. When his father died the Baileys moved to Baltimore, where Bailey became a football, basketball and track star in high school, as well as an able sandlot baseball player. His potential for a professional athletic career ended in the summer he graduated from high school, when he badly fractured his right ankle playing semipro baseball. After the accident Bailey confined himself to golf and Sunday-afternoon softball. Recently he bought some racehorses, and he now has three broodmares and two foals at a farm in Lexington, Ky.
Another reason for SNI's success is that Bailey likes work as well as sport. When he first came to New York in 1930, after two years at the University of Maryland, he started out by holding down a day job, a night job and taking courses at Columbia. He kept working at two jobs until 1954, when he was both traffic coordinator at ABC during the day and a telegrapher and rewrite man at United Press during the evening. He also married and raised seven children.
Perhaps it is all his own action that has made Bailey a fast-acting executive, but his speed has remained one of the strongest attributes of SNI. It was, for example, the main factor in Bailey's obtaining the rights to the 13-tournament PGA National Tour program. ABC took so long in trying to formulate its package offer in 1964 that Marty Carmichael, the PG A's television representative, finally decided to sell it to Bailey for $700,000.
The PGA National Tour show is Bailey's most ambitious project to date. Not including his fixed overhead, the expense to Bailey is about $2.4 million. This breaks down as $700,000 for the TV rights, $700,000 to A.T.&T. for transmission and $1 million for air time to the 180 stations that carry the tournaments. Bailey's income on the series comes from the $17,500 that the three sponsors, Bell System, Goodyear and Plymouth, pay for each of 11 one-minute spots on each telecast. This amounts to a total of $2,502,500 and leaves Bailey with a small profit margin, if any at all.