"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 4 December 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Bad Sports



Before this fall, fans of

Full-Contact Bocce and World

Champion Female Body Shaping

contests had to satiate their

surf-lust scanning two flavors

of ESPN (owned by Disney/ABC),

NewSport (owned by GE/NBC), and

the MSG Network (owned by

Viacom). Meanwhile, the broadcast

networks filled their weekend

schedules with NCAA basketball

and other big-ticket advertising

fodder. But by Christmas, there

will be almost as many sports

networks as corporate-sponsored

college bowl games.


Come December 12, the titans at

Time-Warner will add yet another

"sports-news service" to cable

systems already full to bursting

with pay-per-view and so-called

"premium" sports channels.

CNN/SI (CNN as in CNN and SI as

in Sports Illustrated), is the

lastest volley in the suddenly

contentious sports-news

universe, which has inexplicably

exploded into more bandwidth

than Gilligan's Island reruns

and daytime talk shows combined.

A month ago, ESPNEWS added

steroids to cable's bland

alphabet soup, and promptly

stole a weekend from the already

programming-challenged ESPN (is

anyone watching ESPN2 yet)? Soon

FoxSports will join the Fox News

Network on every cable service

not owned by Time-Warner.


[San Fran]

But how much air time can these

guys fill? To be sure, talking

heads and highlights shows will

expand to fill the space

available, providing every

conceivable new update on such

earth-shattering events as Steve

Young's latest concussion and

how much money Shaq makes per

missed free-throw, but there

just aren't enough games to go

around. Maybe Major League

Soccer will finally get its




This glut of glutes may signify

the reactive mania of the old

networks to reclaim a chunk of

the formerly lucrative sports

pie, what with Rupert Murdoch

having bought up everything from

the Superbowl to the Golf

Channel (and paid more than

he'll likely recoup in this

century). The migration of

precious advertising dollars

away from traditional

broadcasters has found the

erstwhile air wardens fishing in

the dark, murky waters of cable

to come up with ideas to get

back some of their old audience

and - more importantly - the

advertising bucks that a Nielsen

rating commands. Perhaps

the suits at Disney and GE are

jockeying for position under

Rupert's balancing beam routine,

waiting to snatch up the ratings

when he falls.


This scenario falls apart,

however, under tighter scrutiny

of the megamedia companies and

their incestuous

interdependence. As Time-Warner

and News Corp. slug it out in

Madison Square, the two

swap film and television

properties from their respective

production companies (Warner/HBO

and Fox) with reckless disregard

for their supposed enmity. Their

left hands may not know what

the right hands are doing, but

that's just as well - both are

hitting below the belt (one more

pleasurably than the other).

Meanwhile, Disney and ESPN team

up with News Corp.'s satellite

broadcasting companies to bring

hungry Asians and polluted

Europeans worldwide coverage of

the latest crowd-pleasing

soccer-fan atrocities.



All sports shows exist for one

reason: to sell beer and cars.

It's no coincidence that General

Motors has kicked a lot of cash

into the new CNN/SI venture:

Sports shows, for all their

apparent homogeneity (there's

only so much you can do with a

ball, right?), target American

men with specific income

brackets; their demographics are

scrupulously detailed. You won't

see ads for Colt 45 on the Golf

Channel or for Infiniti during a

WWF Texas Death Match.



By splitting into a mind-numbing

array of subchannels, each

broadcaster hopes to fine-tune

their market segments and pitch

'em hanging curves for Miller

Lite (for the middle-aged alumni

watching College Football on

ESPN) or Trojans...or perhaps

Astroglide (for the handful of young

boys soaking up beach volleyball

on ESPN2).



To some, the sports spread smacks

of postmodern paranoia. For

every pipeline pumped up with

trivia, another public access

channel shuts down, another

local station goes up for sale.

TV, which hasn't been taken

seriously as a news gathering

media since Ed Murrow coughed up

his last lung, has pissed away

the promise of cable access into

a chamberpot full of home

shopping services, game shows,

pay-per-view Wrestling

extravaganzas, and,

increasingly, sports.

Intelligent political dialog

died years ago, its bloody body

lies at the feet of John

McLaughlin and Pat Buchanan.

Actual investigative reporting

takes too much time and effort -

it won't fit between the Nike

ads. Even PBS becomes

indistinguishable from the

plethora of footage-foraging

history channels and


nature channels.


But that's OK. We don't have time

for anything complicated like

media mergers or local access

to technology now - the game's


courtesy of Dr. Robert