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CBS Lost a Bundle on the World Series

October 23, 1990

NEW YORK (AP) _ The Cincinnati Reds’ sweep of the Oakland A’s in the World Series cost CBS a bundle.

Oakland lost the series in four straight games, meaning CBS, which paid $1.08 billion for the rights to four years of baseball, lost the revenue from three unplayed games and had only 14 of a potential 21 postseason games to broadcast.

Industry estimates put the loss as high as $150 million.

″We could use a little better luck, for sure,″ said CBS Sports President Neal Pilson, who put the loss significantly lower. ″Under $100 million is, I think, a reasonable guess at this point.″

John Reidy, a media analyst for Smith Barney, estimated CBS’ overall fourth-quarter loss at more than $50 million, with an overall loss for the year of about $100 million.

″If they had gotten three more games, we figure they could have had an increased contribution to their profits on the order of $15 million to $20 million without too much difficulty,″ Reidy said.

In 1990, all major sports contracts were up for renewal and CBS was looking to break out of its third-place prime-time standing with aggressive bidding.

CBS’ $1.08 billion for baseball was part of a $3.6 billion package for NFL football, NCAA tournament basketball and the next two Winter Olympics.

″They bid up the price of prime-time sports too high to support the business that’s out there,″ said John Rohr, a programming analyst for Blair Television, advertising representative for TV stations. ″There’s a lot more supply nowadays than there is demand.″

The network boasted that 1990 would be a ″Dream Season,″ with its would broadcasts of the Super Bowl, basketball’s Final Four college championships and the pros’ NBA championships, the All-Star Game, tennis’ U.S. Open and the World Series.

″The Dream Season turned into a nightmare of blowouts, sweeps and rain delays,″ said CBS spokeswoman Susan Kerr.

In the Super Bowl, the San Francisco ’49ers obliterated the Denver Broncos 55-10; the University of Las Vegas won the Final Four in a 103-73 blowout of Duke University, and the NBA’s Detroit Pistons won their title in five games.

″These are things we can’t control,″ Pilson said.

CBS’ baseball dream began going bad when the owners’ lockout delayed the season for nearly a month. Rain delayed the All-Star Game for more than an hour, pushing the final innings into the small hours.

″All of our sports, including baseball up through the World Series, performed better than projected in terms of the bottom line,″ Pilson said. ″But what we ran into was a fourth-quarter softness in the overall economy. It wasn’t just television and it wasn’t just sports television.″

Baseball’s truncated playoffs hurt. The first National League playoff game between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati was the lowest-rated in history. Ratings for the six prime-time playoff games declined 10 percent from last year.

This year’s World Series ratings were better than last year’s earthquake- delayed championship, which got an all-time low rating of 16.4 mostly because both teams came from the same, smaller media market.

The ’90 Series’ overnight ratings averaged 21.3 - up about 25 percent over last year, but still second-lowest since night games were added in 1971.

Oakland and Cincinnati are not New York- or L.A.-size markets. ″No disrespect to Oakland or Cincinnati, but the only thing I can think of that would be worse for a series would be Toronto versus Montreal,″ Rohr said.

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