SEAHAWK AND OTHER SYNDROMES
Remember when the midseason TV ratings for the NFL were in the doldrums and league and network officials said, "Wait a few weeks, things will get better when the cold weather keeps people indoors"? Well, we waited, and the ratings on the whole got worse. Now come the Nielsens for the NFL's nine postseason games, Super Bowl included, and as SI's TV writer William Taaffe reports, the tidings are uniformly bad. CBS, whose ratings during the regular season were down 4.6% from 1981 (regular-season comparisons with 1982 are difficult because of that season's strike), suffered a decline in its five postseason games of 14.9% from 1981-82 and 7.1% from '82-83. NBC, off 12.2% from 1981 during the regular season, was down a sobering 27.3% from '81-82 and 19.9% from '82-83 in four postseason games.
No matter what kind of face one tries to put on these figures, there's clearly trouble in paradise. Let's break down the numbers. All of CBS's games were off compared with 1981-82. Especially weak were the Redskins-Rams game on Jan. 1, which got a 24.9 rating (off 23.8% from the Sunday divisional playoff two years before), and the Redskins- 49ers NFC championship game on Jan. 8, which pulled a 30.1 (down 29.8%). One mitigating circumstance was that both games were played early in the afternoon, whereas the corresponding games two years ago were played later in the day, when more viewers normally tune in. This year's Super Bowl, widely touted in advance as a "classic," got a 46.4 rating (106 million viewers), down 5.5% from the '82 game. Of course, as Jack Squirek will gladly tell you, this year's game turned out to be a certified blowout before the half.
It was NBC that really got blind-sided in the postseason. Here's its tale of woe. Seahawks-Broncos wild-card game, Dec. 24: 16.0 rating (down 30.4% from the wild-card two years ago). Seahawks-Dolphins divisional playoff, Dec. 31: 18.9 rating (down 32.3%). Raiders-Steelers divisional playoff, Jan. 1: 22.5 (off 22.7%). Raiders-Seahawks AFC championship game, Jan. 8: 26.3 (off 24.8%). The alarming thing about that last game is that it was played late in the afternoon, whereas the AFC title game two years ago was played early. In other words, the ratings slide in this instance probably would have been worse had this season's game been played in the same time frame as that of '82.
Inasmuch as three of the four NBC postseason games involved Seattle, a team that consisted mostly of no-names, it can be said that NBC suffered from the Seahawk Syndrome. Even the Steelers suffered from Seahawk Syndrome, having been led by Cliff Stoudt and not Terry Bradshaw. NBC is stuck year in and year out with the smaller AFC markets, and the situation wasn't helped this season by the fact that the Jets and Bengals went down the, well, tube, while the Chargers, another supposedly glamorous team, were reduced to playing Ed Luther in place of the disabled Dan Fouts. The big star in the AFC this year was newcomer Dan Marino. That should tell you something about the league's shortage of established stars.
As for the season-long decline, all the talk about lopsided games and lackluster matchups is too glib. You always have blowouts. The fundamental problem may have to do with 1) the glut of sports on conventional and cable TV, and 2) the steady fading of team and player identities owing in part to competition for personnel from the USFL. Says Steve Leff, who handles the Miller beer account for the ad agency Backer & Spielvogel: "It seems to me that the old heroes are going out, and the new heroes haven't become firmly enough established. If that premise is right, then there definitely is an impact from the USFL, because when the USFL pulls out certain people there's a diminution of potential heroes for the NFL. So is this the reason for the poor ratings? My answer is 'sure,' for lack of better proof."
BUMPER CROP OF CONTRACTS
O.K., bumper-sticker fans, here's a brand-new one for you. It's inspired by the litigation in the U.S. District Court in Detroit in which it's to be determined—probably sometime this week—which team winds up with the Lions' star running back, who complicated his life by grandly entering into contracts for this year both with that outfit and with the USFL's Houston Gamblers. The message says: HONK IF YOU'VE GOT A CONTRACT SIGNED BY BILLY SIMS.
Last Friday night at the annual Eclipse Awards dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, a foreign thoroughbred was named Horse of the Year for the first time ever. The horse so honored was All Along, the French filly whose owner, Parisian art dealer Daniel Wildenstein, sees that award as being just the beginning. SI senior writer Clive Gammon recently visited France and reports that Wildenstein is leading an assault on U.S. racing by his country's thoroughbred establishment.
Wildenstein spoke of the French aspirations in the magnificence of the 18th-century headquarters of the Wildenstein Foundation on the Rue La Bo�tie in Paris. The scheme he outlined was reminiscent of the spy-novel scenario in which the Soviets build a facsimile of a small American town in the steppes to familiarize agents with the minutiae of life in the U.S. heartland. The French variation on the theme: construction by the Soci�t� d'Encouragement, the French Jockey Club, of an American-style dirt track at the national racing center at Chantilly, about 30 miles north of Paris.