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It's Sport...It's Money...It's TV
Roone Arledge
April 25, 1966
Is television a voracious monster that is taking over and ruining sport? Here the vice-president in charge of sports for the American Broadcasting Company, and a man of many monitors, trenchantly answers TV's critics
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April 25, 1966

It's's's Tv

Is television a voracious monster that is taking over and ruining sport? Here the vice-president in charge of sports for the American Broadcasting Company, and a man of many monitors, trenchantly answers TV's critics

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As certain habits have become accepted, an awful lot of puff has been added to baseball. Most people, unless they're aggressive, have to be motivated into action; otherwise they postpone everything, beginning with getting up in the morning. So you've got the pitcher standing there with the ball in his hand because he doesn't know exactly what pitch he wants to throw, and the batter, because he's afraid to strike out, fools around and fools around before he finally steps up to the plate. People will keep doing what they've traditionally been allowed to get away with, like arguing with the umpires in baseball and fighting in hockey, both of which should have no real part in the game; they are, for instance, almost nonexistent in football.

Last year Ford Frick told me after accepting our $5.5 million to televise baseball, "One of the jobs that baseball has to do is keep television from making the show too good. The trouble is that television wants the viewer to see the game better than the fan in the ball park. The view a fan gets at home should not be any better than that of the fan in the worst seat in the ball park." But the problem isn't solely with the owners. Before a college football game we always put a mike on the referee. In our baseball coverage we wanted to put a mike on the head umpire so the viewers could hear the pregame meeting with the managers, but a local station had tried it and the writers protested. If television was on the field, they wanted to be there, too.

Sportswriters love to knock television, but they usually don't start knocking it until they find they can't get a job in it. At one time everyone waited for the sportswriters to tell them what happened. But their function has changed. In a sense it has been preempted by television, because television is simultaneous. Anyway, the newspaper guys have got to resent golden throats making $100,000 to $200,000 a year. They've got to figure they know more about sports than a lot of them. But, generally speaking, next to the College of Cardinals, no group has such self-proclaimed sacrosanctity as the baseball writers. For example, we wanted to put a camera alongside the dugout, but the owners were afraid we'd block someone's view or, more probably, take up seats they wanted to sell, so they let us set up our equipment in one end of the dugout. What we wanted to do was to get low, show the pitcher's face, the batter's, this little war between them, not just tiny dots. The baseball writers claimed that the cameraman would be privy to information overheard in the dugout and relay it to Leo Durocher, who was doing our color. They lodged a formal protest against our violating the sanctity of the dugout.

Baseball is essentially a local sport, a home-town sport, which mitigates against national television. It is probably the most partisan of sports. The fans go to the games out of partisanship, not to see the grace and beauty of the players. And people don't particularly enjoy going to the ball parks, which are often located in out-of-the-way places, or run-down neighborhoods. It's not necessarily a pleasant experience, like driving up to the Yale Bowl.

Baseball should encourage the abnormal. It generally has a pretty high rate of predictability. When a person in the stands catches a foul pop it is often one of the most engrossing moments of a ball game. Despite the close pennant races, the biggest story last year was Marichal hitting Roseboro with a baseball bat. But it's not as simple as saying it's a lousy sport. A good baseball game is probably the most exciting event there is. And there is really a tremendous strategy in baseball that is not widely understood. It looks like things happen at random, that a base hit is luck. The ball goes between two guys. You aren't privy to the fact that they're setting people up, you don't know what the managers are thinking. The key decisions in baseball are usually little decisions. They're not as dramatic as in football, nor as immediately apparent. Baseball doesn't get credit for being the game it is.

Football and television have been ideal partners. They have a great affinity. The shape of the field corresponds to that of the screen. The action, although spread out, starts in a predictable portion of the field. It is a game in which action focuses on individuals. The quarterback is a meaningful focal point. The flow is natural and continuous, not like in baseball, where there is a play at third, then you cut to second, then cut to home plate.

Football also has a larger-than-life physical quality that baseball hasn't exploited. Think of the effect of a closeup shot of the players on the bench, which you never see in baseball. There is also a kind of excitement generated when people are dressed to avoid injury. The uniforms themselves are a sort of premonition of danger; in a sport where the participants wear crash helmets you are constantly reminded of the presence of death. Football has both violence and a chesslike quality that stimulates the spectator between plays so that he isn't merely sitting there and waiting, as he is in baseball.

The home run is the ultimate stroke in sport, but it has become relatively commonplace and is not essentially exciting. Baseball puts too much emphasis on instantaneous action; the trotting around after the home run is anticlimactic. However, in football, the "home run," or the long touchdown pass, is thrilling in its entirety. In football the great moments are both intellectually and esthetically stimulating. If Jimmy Brown is stopped at the line for no gain there at least has been a clash of wills, a physical pitting, a thunderous conflict. But if a batter swings at a pitch and misses, you don't ordinarily get the feeling that the pitcher has actually bested him. On television, sport has to have a quality where even the routine games are interesting. The average football game is set up in such a way that there's generally excitement.

Physically, professional basketball is an excellent sport for television; it's played in a confined area and the cameras can be placed to show the agility, finesse and contact. One of the problems is a growing feeling that everything that occurs before the last 10 minutes of play is inconsequential. This is not really true unless you tune in to find out the result rather than to watch the game, or unless your sole interest is in betting. The end of the game has an intensity and a desperateness, but certainly no monopoly on great plays.

Our principal weakness is that we haven't educated the people sufficiently to the subtleties of basketball strategy, as we have done in football. However, it's not an easy game to do commentary over, because the action is constant. There is no natural break where the expert can come in, and if he tries, another basket is scored halfway through what he is saying and the subject has changed.

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