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In an International Olympic Committee bidding contest last week at the Palace Hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland, ABC agreed to pay $309 million for U.S. rights to televise the 1988 Winter Games in Calgary, Alberta. The losers, if that's the right word for anyone saving that kind of money, were NBC and CBS, which bid $304 million and $260 million, respectively. Thus, the dramatic escalation of TV rights fees for the Olympics continues. So does ABC's monopoly of those rights for recent Winter Games. Four years ago ABC paid $15.5 million for the Lake Placid Olympics. This year the network is spending $91.5 million for the Sarajevo Games, which begin next week—not to mention $225 million more for the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.
Taking into account the fact that the Winter Games are far less popular in the U.S. than the Summer Olympics, how does ABC justify shelling out 37% more for the '88 Winter Games than it's paying for L.A. and more than three times what Sarajevo is costing? After all, should American athletes perform abysmally at Calgary, the ratings could tumble, and ABC could sorely regret its lavish outlay. Barring such a development, however, last week's winning bid makes considerable economic sense. For one thing, Calgary is in the Mountain Time Zone, so most of the coverage ABC will provide in '88 will be live. Experience has shown that live coverage produces significantly higher ratings and more advertising revenue than tape-delayed telecasts of the sort that, for the most part, will be beamed from Sarajevo, which is six hours ahead of New York. "The opportunity to go live pretty much ensures you're going to get good numbers," says Barry Frank, senior corporate vice-president of Trans World International, who served, in effect, as the Calgary organizers' agent in the rights sale.
It also doesn't hurt that the Calgary Olympics have been "designed" for television. They originally had been scheduled for the last week of February and first week of March but at Frank's urging were moved up to run entirely in February, one of three "sweeps" months in the TV industry. Ratings during sweeps periods are used as the basis for ad rates for the ensuing four months. Also, the Calgary Olympics will be spread over three weekends instead of two, giving ABC 80-odd hours of coverage to sell to advertisers, compared with 63� hours from Sarajevo. All this, of course, is in addition to an expected continued increase in ad rates.
ABC can take comfort in the fact that networks that covered past Olympics usually have ended up profiting even though the sums they bid almost always seemed chilling at the time. The same thing has happened with the even costlier rights for Summer Olympics. Accordingly, Frank, a former executive at both ABC Sports and CBS Sports who reportedly has also been engaged to peddle TV contracts for the 1988 Summer Games in Seoul, predicts that the U.S. rights for that event will fetch $750 million. Or do we hear a billion?
GETTING IN THE LAST WHISTLE
When it comes to putting down hecklers, nightclub comedians have nothing on basketball referees. The classic—and perhaps apocryphal—squelch story is the one about the official who was taking a lot of guff about his calls from a coach. Passing his detractor's bench, the ref casually called out, "Oh, you're just mad because my team's winning." That one's hard to top, but NBA refs Earl Strom and Jake O'Donnell recently silenced hecklers with lines almost as good.
First Strom: A couple of Seattle SuperSonics were giving him a hard time about what they thought was a succession of blown calls. Having heard enough, Strom told them, "You start playing 100 percent, and I'll start refereeing 100 percent."
O'Donnell's crack also occurred during a SuperSonics game. After Seattle's Danny Vranes blocked a shot by the Dallas Mavericks' Mark Aguirre, O'Donnell called a technical on Aguirre for protesting too vociferously that a foul should have been called. A moment later Vranes again appeared to block Aguirre's shot, but this time O'Donnell called Vranes for a foul.