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Rusty Saber

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by Joe McAdoo

It's no longer unusual for sports figures to make front-page news. The various exploits of members of the Dallas Cowboys, including the coach, have garnered a ton of front-page ink. Contrary to popular belief, the Texas Parole Board didn't open a branch office at the Cowboys practice site, but they probably could have.

When Golden State Warrior basketball player Latrell Sprewell attacked his coach, choked him and threatened to kill him, it made the front page and was a hot topic on the talk-show circuit.

The incident even made it into the political arena when San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown quipped, "Maybe (the coach) needed choking." It doesn't take a mental giant to translate that into, "Maybe he needed killing."

The national Basketball Association's voiding of Sprewell's $32 million contract created a national debate over whether the punishment was too harsh. Too harsh? You would be in jail if you tried to choke the boss.

This unfortunate incident proved that when thugs are paid millions to play a game, expect them to act like thugs. Not to mention that when a thug is elected mayor of a city, expect him to act like a thug.

The Major League baseball players' strike in 1993 was a major front-page news event. We were privy to an ugly dispute between multimillionaire players who wanted more money and multimillionaire team owners who wanted more money.

Along come the new multi-year television contracts between the national Football League and the TV networks CBS, Fox, ABC, ESPN and TBS. This was front-page news because of the amounts of money involved, and because NBC, which has carried American Football Conference games since Sodom played Gomorrah in the Super Bowl, lost its NFL broadcast rights.

The same thing happened to CBS four years ago when Fox won the right to carry National Football Conference games, which Fox was able to renew. CBS successfully outbid NBC, punting it out of the picture. ABC retained Monday night games and ESPN now holds exclusive rights to Sunday night games, which it had shared previously with Turner Sports.

It's no wonder these events were front-page news. The NFL multi-year TV package totaled $17.6 billion. (This contrasts with the paltry two-year $2.6 billion NBC and Turner Sports paid to televise NBA basketball games.) I imagine there are Third-World countries with smaller gross national products.

The B word (as in billions) is usually reserved for use by politicians. I mean, $17.6 billion is loose change to Congress. But then, congressmen can afford to use the B word; it's not their money it's ours. The billions the networks forked over to the NFL was their own money.

We can all relax. The world remains safe for democracy: Professional football will be on TV into the 21st century.

It doesn't take a Nobel Prize winner in economics to figure out that it will take a lot of Budweiser frogs' commercials and songs about how Chevrolet trucks are "like a rock" in order for the networks to make a profit on their $17.6 billion investment, especially since professional football viewership is going down.

In an effort to try, the number of commercials during a game will go up from 56 to 59. This means that the couch-potato football fanatic who watches two Sunday afternoon games, flips to ESPN for the Sunday night game and rests up at work on Monday so he will be fresh for "Monday Night Football" on ABC, will see 236 commercials or promos

for network programs, plus local affiliate commercials during station

breaks, mixed in with blitzes, sacks, a few broken bones, a couple of brain concussions, touchdown passes and field goals.

Although it wasn't front-page news, fans of Fox football broadcasts were doubtless relieved to learn that John Madden, a man whose voice is the equivalent of fingernails across a chalkboard, has signed a new contract to continue as Fox's chief football analyst (an analyst tells viewers what they just saw).

The terms of Madden's contract weren't disclosed, but four years ago

he signed with Fox for $32 million. What with a cost-of-living increase and the like, he'll be paid a lot more than $32 million to watch football games and talk and talk and talk and talk about them.

I wonder. Is the Apocalypse getting close?

(Joe McAdoo is former chairman of the communication department at Drury College and a Springfield public relations consultant.)

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