Must-see TV? Fox, ESPN and baseball discussing expanded Bonds coverage Print
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Thursday, 14 June 2007 10:19
MLB Headline News

 NEW YORK (AP) -Whether they're rooting for him or against him, fans might get to see a lot of Barry Bonds on television.
Fox and ESPN are discussing the possibility of expanding coverage of Bonds as he approaches Hank Aaron's home run mark of 755, anticipating viewers will tune in - out of admiration, curiosity or contempt.
``First we have to decide, when can we break in and begin to do live cut-ins of his at-bats, and that's being negotiated now,'' said Len DeLuca, ESPN's senior vice president for programming and acquisitions. ``Is it within two? Within three? Within five? Where does it become reasonable?''
Fox is broadcasting Bonds' San Francisco Giants on each of three consecutive Saturday afternoons this month, with 66 percent of the U.S. television households getting this weekend's game at the Boston Red Sox, the Giants' first trip to Fenway Park since June 1915. The Giants also are slated for Fox appearances on June 23, July 14, July 21 and Sept. 8.
Fox Sports president Ed Goren said the debate over whether Bonds used performance-enhancing drugs could be good for TV ratings.
``There are some who would say that in a way it's a perfect storm,'' he said. ``Those who are rooting for him will watch. Those who are rooting against him will watch. You never know.''
Bonds is eight homers shy of Aaron's record and has hit just two home runs since May 8. Chris Tully, baseball's senior vice president for broadcasting, said through spokesman Pat Courtney that it was premature to discuss national television coverage of Bonds.
Fox might be interested in carrying Bonds' games in prime time when he is on the verge of setting the record, but adding broadcasts is complicated by rights deals. Fox has an exclusive window on Saturday afternoons and ESPN has an exclusive on Sunday night telecasts. ESPN also televises games on Monday and Wednesday nights.
``We're a television network. We're not an all-sports cable operation, so we play under different rules as an organization,'' Goren said. ``The variables are how far out do you have to declare to move a game and can you get a game in time?''
When Mark McGwire hit his 62nd home run in 1998 to break Roger Maris' season record, Fox was able to acquire the game from FX, a cable network also owned by News Corp. The game drew a 12.9 rating, the highest for regular-season baseball in 16 years, and was seen by 43.1 million viewers.
DeLuca, a former CBS executive, remembers how news coverage drove ratings during the 1994 Winter Olympics. The women's skating showdown between Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan got a 48.5 rating - the sixth-highest-rated program and No. 3 sporting event in the history of U.S. television.
``It is almost axiomatic that the more controversy surrounding any major event drives more casual people to the set,'' DeLuca said. ``The baseball fans are going to be there. This is the Holy Grail, the career home run record. But one of the facts of news that we all know, be it in sports or in regular news, is that controversy drives interest.''
Goren already has had internal discussions within Fox about the possibility of pre-empting prime-time entertainment coverage for Bonds when he gets close to the record. The decision would have to be made on short notice and in conjunction with affiliates - Giants' home night games start at the same time as the 10 o'clock news on the East Coast.
``Can your sales guys sell it in three days? Is there a lot of money in the marketplace in June or July? There are a lot of variables,'' Goren said. ``When all is said and done, the key question: Would we like to televise the record-setting game? I think the answer would be yes, all things being equal.''
Because it is an all-sports operation, DeLuca said ESPN plans to detail Bonds' pursuit on its ``SportsCenter,'' ``Baseball Tonight,'' ``Outside the Lines'' and ``ESPN First Take'' shows. There also is coverage on ESPN Radio, ESPN The Magazine and ESPN Radio.
``We have all the assets to cover this story fully and on all its very, very complex levels,'' he said. ``Some of it is not so complex - does he hit the ball out and where does he hit it?''
Both said Bonds treats the television rights-holders about the same as other media. ESPN Original Entertainment aired the reality series ``Bonds on Bonds'' early in the 2006 season before it went on hiatus. Bonds spent 1 1/2 hours taping an All-Star game promo for Fox this year and twice in the past traveled after games in San Francisco to Los Angeles for charity dinners the network is involved with.
``He's been cooperative with us in many ways, and in many ways like he treats everybody else: He ignores us,'' Goren said.
 

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