SI Vault
Edited by Richard Demak
September 23, 1991
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September 23, 1991


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Baseball has not been very, very good to CBS

Poor CBS. Last year—the first of its four-year, $1.06 billion contract with the major leagues—the network lost more than $100 million on its baseball coverage. Ratings and advertising rates for its game-of-the-week telecasts were poor, and when the time came to reap the benefits of the postseason, CBS wound up having only 14 league championship and World Series games to broadcast instead of the 21 it would have had if the three series had gone the distance.

The way their luck is running, the folks at Black Rock can probably expect three sweeps in this year's postseason. None of the teams leading the four divisions as of Sunday—the Atlanta Braves, the Minnesota Twins, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Toronto Blue Jays—represent big-market cities, at least as far as U.S. television is concerned. One indication of the Blue Jays' lack of appeal below the border is that they are last in the American League in road attendance. Noting that the Braves are locked in a tight National League West race with the megamarket Los Angeles Dodgers and that the Blue Jays aren't home free in the American League East, CBS Sports vice-president Jay Rosenstein says, "It's not something we can control, but it would be naive to think that there aren't some people here who are rooting for the Dodgers and anybody but the Blue Jays."

While many of CBS's woes are beyond its control, the network has only itself to blame for its haphazard scheduling of games—CBS seems to stand for Covers Baseball Sporadically—and its failure to promote its telecasts, and baseball in general, as well as NBC did. For example, the 8:30 p.m. (EDT) weekday league championship series games will have no pre-game shows this year because CBS has chosen to air its commercial-rich 8:00 p.m. shows.

Last Saturday, CBS finally had its first compelling game of the season, Los Angeles at Atlanta (page 22). So what happened? A first-inning rain delay prompted the network to go to the backup game, Oakland at Toronto. That game turned out to be a 6-0 snoozer, and the Braves-Dodgers, which resumed after a one-hour-and-19-minute delay, was an 11-inning thriller. Yet CBS went back to full coverage of the Braves-Dodgers game only for its Atlanta affiliate.

The general impression among baseball fans is that CBS just doesn't care. But baseball doesn't seem to care either. Whereas the NFL and the NBA work in concert with their networks, baseball puts all sorts of restrictions on CBS. For instance, don't look for the big Dodgers-Braves game this Saturday on CBS. Seems the network has already used up its baseball-imposed quota of Dodger games.

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