The sports world was shocked last month when NBC outbid CBS by $40 million for the U.S. television rights to the 1992 Summer Olympics in Madrid, Spain. But CBS returned the favor Wednesday by muscling NBC out of its long-standing tradition of Major League Baseball coverage with a four-year, exclusive rights contract that will cost the network - are you ready for this? - $1 billion.
In the immortal words of Harry Carey, "Holy cow!"The contract, which won't go into affect until the 1990 season, almost equals the combined total of the current ABC and NBC baseball contracts, which called for $1.1 billion spread out over six years. It gives CBS exclusive rights to televise the World Series, the All-Star Game, both league championship series and a 12-game regular-season package.
What's that, you say? Only 12 regular season games? That's right. CBS is paying more per year for rights to fewer games. The rest of Major League Baseball's regular season coverage will go to cable, where TNT, ESPN and SportsChannel America are expected to bid an additional $75-100 million per season for a package that will provide four or five games a week.
So beginning in 1990, there'll be lots more baseball on TV, but less of it will be on over-the-air networks and stations.
And none of it will be on NBC, which has been carrying baseball since 1947. CBS, meanwhile, hasn't televised a big league game since 1965, so it'll take some gearing up during the next 16 months or so to map out coverage strategies and sign some good, qualified baseball announcers. (And let's hope no one at CBS has heard that Joe Garagiola is looking for a job.)