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TVKO's telecast provided a glimpse of the future
The bout was billed as The Battle of the Ages, but the pay-per-view telecast of the George Foreman-Evander Holyfield fight last Friday night (page 22) was also a harbinger of things to come. The first production of TVKO, a pay-per-view boxing network that, along with SI, is owned by Time Warner, was seen on an estimated 1.8 million sets. That means that a record 10% of all cable homes with access to pay-per-view were tuned in at an average of $35 a pop. "Nobody can say he didn't get his money's worth," says Seth Abraham, TVKO's president. "It was a great fight. I feel like the producer of Les Misérables after opening night."
Because the fight was so good, TVKO will be better able to attract pay-per-viewers to its monthly series of boxing nights, to begin on May 10. Even more significant, the numbers indicate that pay-per-view has taken on a legitimacy that will push it beyond wrestling and boxing into other sports.
TVKO was fortunate in another way. The quality of the fight more than made up for the quality of the telecast, which was something less than O.K. TV. Abraham, who also heads HBO Sports, wants to give TVKO a separate identity from HBO, so he went with announcers unfamiliar to many viewers: Len Berman, a veteran New York City sportscaster; Joe Goossen, a professional trainer; and Khambrel Marshall, a Chicago sports anchor. They talked too much, miscalled too many punches and overrated the historical significance of the fight. Fortunately, the lasting image from the telecast is of Foreman saying "Hip, hip, hooray" after the fight.
On a night when the 42-year-old preacher stepped out of the past, TV sports stepped into the future.
The Safest Season
No one died from a football-related injury last year
Last week the National Center for Catastrophic Sports Injury Research in Chapel Hill, N.C., which has been monitoring the frequency and severity of football injuries on sandlots and in schools, colleges and professional leagues since 1965, announced that for the first time in 60 years, no player died from a football-related injury last season. It may have been a fluke, but Frederick Mueller, professor of physical education at North Carolina and director of the center, doesn't think so. "There is better medical care at the schools," says Mueller, "and trainers and coaches are talking more about safety."
In addition, coaches have changed what they teach. Most players who died from injuries over the last six decades suffered head or neck injuries while attempting to make a tackle or block. That's why the highest rate of deaths occurred during the 1960s and early '70s, when coaches were instructing players to put their faces in the chests of ballcarriers when they made tackles. Today the preferred technique is for the defender to lead with his shoulder and wrap his arms around the ballcarrier's legs. Rules enacted in '76 against head-first contact have also reduced head and neck injuries.
Another reason football deaths are down is that helmets are safer. In 1978, for the first time, helmets had to meet certain safety standards. Moreover, lawsuits brought against helmet manufacturers have forced them to make their products even safer.