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  • Friday, 12 June, 1998

    TSN stands its ground

    By ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun
      TSN is doing its best to put the boot to one of its despised competitors during soccer's World Cup.
     In the latest round of the spat between TSN and Headline Sports, the Canadian soccer rights-holder is denying the highlight service the opportunity to show Cup clips.
     "We're simply protecting our investment," TSN vice-president of programming Phil King said. "(Headline Sports') whole business is based on stealing highlights. With everyone else, we have a gentlemen's agreement where highlights are shared. But they bring nothing. We spend big money producing games and they just want to take the highlights."
     The latest battle came to a head when TSN learned that Headline Sports was selling advertising spots for a nightly World Cup show to air at 9 p.m. With its own show airing at 10:30 p.m., TSN didn't want the competition to get the jump.
     "We're paying literally millions of dollars to do this and it's not to have anyone scoop us," King said.
     Headline Sports host Mark Hebscher took on-air shots at the competition Wednesday night, although producer Lee Herberman refused to get into a spitting contest yesterday.
     "The fact is, Headline Sports has been singled out amongst literally hundreds of outlets across the country," Herberman said. "What's unfortunate is that it deprives our viewers the opportunity to see highlights they can see anywhere else."
     As it stands, TSN won't allow Headline Sports to show any highlights. For other Canadian networks, the embargo is considerably more relaxed. King said broadcasters can carry 45 seconds once the game is over.
     TSN's competition has stepped up dramatically in the past year. First it was Headline Sports and coming this fall, CTV Sports Net. King said it is unlikely similar embargoes will exist with Sports Net.
     "It wouldn't make sense for either of us," King said. "We both have something to offer. We'd be shooting each other in the foot."
     It's not a universal rule of TV sports in this country that big ratings justify huge production costs. But in the case of the World Cup, where the audience can be finicky and vocal about its dislikes, TSN has left nothing to chance in France.
     Though it could have brought the nuts and bolts of the tournament to Canadians on the cheap, the network is spending money to make a big-ticket package that looks the part of an event most of the world treats as huge.
     "Certainly this is a discriminating audience, they are absolutely passionate about the tournament," King said.
     It is for that reason that TSN has stuck with the staid BBC crews rather than picking up ESPN, which it could do easier and at considerably less expense.
     "It would be like asking the Brits to call a hockey game," King said. "No offence to (the ESPN broadcasters) but they are not world-renowned for their soccer coverage.
     "The English commentary is a significant added expense, but it adds to the enjoyment for the viewer. We feel it's worth it."
     TSN will show all but four of the World Cup games live, with only next weekend's U.S. Open golf tournament forcing some tape delays.
     Coverage so far has been strong. Having Gord Miller, Paul Romanuk and Graham Leggat in France has put TSN's own stamp on the show and added flavor.
     The studio crew of Vic Rauter, Craig Forrest and Dick Howard may not be the liveliest bunch, but it provides a well-informed lead-in to games, plus a detailed wrapup at night.
     The support shows fulfil another important role -- giving the network an opportunity to make some money.
     "It creates inventory to recoup the expense of it," King said. "We try to keep in-game interruptions to a minimum."
     MORE SOCCER: The partnership of ABC/ESPN will broadcast all World Cup games in the U.S., the bulk of them on ESPN and ESPN2. The main ABC network will carry games on weekends plus all U.S. matches, including Monday afternoon's opener against Germany.
     TALKIN' FOOTBALL: Rogers Cable is going ahead with marketing its NFL Sunday Ticket pay-per-view package even though the service remains in limbo with the CRTC. Rogers is offering an early-bird special of $139.99 until July 31 for the package, which would allow viewers access to nearly 200 regular-season games. The regular price is $159.99. But a number of Canadian-based satellite services have filed a complaint with the CRTC, contending that cable companies are not licensed to offer pay-per-view services. A ruling has yet to be made.
     RADIO WAVES: The book is in but the jury still out on syndicated radio host The Fabulous Sports Babe. Fan 590 program director Nelson Millman said management is evaluating last week's ratings book before deciding on the future. "We'll let the dust settle before we make any moves," Millman said ... The Fan will carry Sunday night Major League Baseball games as well as playoff action.
     HOCKEY TALK: Fox's only opportunity to salvage something from a miserable hockey season would be to have a lengthy final series. "I'm lighting candles for an exciting, drama-filled, seven-game Stanley Cup final," Fox analyst John Davidson said. "If that happens, many of this season's ills
     will become a distant memory." ... Those ills continued in Game 1 of the final when Fox had a 3.3 rating, down 17% from last year's opener. The ratings in big U.S. cities are off far more than the national average: 57% in New York, 39% in Los Angeles and 25% in Chicago ... Canadian ratings for Tuesday's opener haven't been released.
     HORSIN' AROUND: ABC Sports' 96-minute Belmont Stakes telecast received a 5.9 rating and an 18 share, up 1% from last year. About 5,782,000 households tuned in to watch Real Quiet just miss becoming the 12th Triple Crown winner. The race segment, from 5-6:06 p.m., had a 6.7 rating and a 20 share, higher than any other non-NBA sporting event that week. In contrast, Sunday's Kemper Open golf tournament on CBS was the next highest rated event at 2.8-8 ... The Fan will have the race call and an expanded one-hour show on the Queen's Plate, June 21 at Woodbine ... The Ontario Jockey Club objected to TSN's plan to have John Gallagher as host of the North America Cup harness race, saying it wanted someone more familiar with racing to host the half-hour show. He'll be replaced by Gino Reda.
     FINISH LINES: Add pro wrestling to CTV Sports Net's expanding roster. The network has acquired rights to WCW Thunder, which will air Thursday nights. The network also is close to a deal with U.S.-based talk show host Dick Schaap ... Raceline Radio, heard here on the Fan, has been voted top radio show of the American Auto Racing Writers and Broadcasters Association.

    NEXT ROUNDS: Round of 16 || Quarter-finals || Semi-finals
    GROUP A: Brazil, Morocco, Norway, Scotland
    GROUP B: Austria, Cameroon, Chile, Italy
    GROUP C: Denmark, France, Saudi Arabia, South Africa
    GROUP D: Bulgaria, Nigeria, Paraguay, Spain
    GROUP E: Belgium, Holland, Mexico, South Korea
    GROUP F: Germany, Iran, United States, Yugoslavia
    GROUP G: Colombia, England, Romania, Tunisia
    GROUP H: Argentina, Croatia, Jamaica, Japan

    World Cup || SLAM! || Soccer || CANOE