Brief though it has been, the fiveweek Mobil Indoor Series has been great for track and field, says NBC analyst Craig Masback. The network’s commitment to the sport concludes with Saturday’s live telecast of the championships from Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
“What track and field has lacked is a coherent, regular presence on the U.S. sports scene,” says Masback, who works for a Washington law firm when he isn’t chasing down runners. “It’s asking a lot of U.S. fans to have a mental backlog of knowledge about a sport when they don’t really have an opportunity to follow it on a regular basis. So track would sort of appear and disappear. It just wore out its welcome.”
Enter The Athletics Congress, the governing body of U.S. track and field, which struck a deal to telecast a series of indoor meets on NBC.
“By organizing its indoor season in a coherent fashion,” Masback says, “signing up athletes to take part and working with NBC, which obviously has an interest in building this sport toward next year, (TAC officials have) delivered something.”
And the delivery will be seen over a 2-hour time period, more Olympian in length than the previous four shows, which were limited to 60 minutes.
“This entire indoor series is Stage 1 of the whole Olympic preparation,” says Masback, a former U.S. distance record-holder who will be part of NBC’s Summer Olympics coverage next year. “There are a lot of bragging rights being asserted here. The new stars are emerging; the old people are realizing a year and a half is a long time in their life span to try to hold on. I find that a fascinating theme of the last few weeks.”
While NBC ends its association with track and field for the year after Saturday’s event, ABC moves into the void in a big way after gaining rights this week to the World Championships in August. Has the interest in the sport increased? The last World Championships in 1993 were shown on ABC as a time-buy by the International Amateur Athletic Federation, track’s world governing body. The agreement for the Aug. 4-13 meet in Goteborg, Sweden, guarantees 7 hours on ABC and 10 to 12 hours on ESPN. The deal follows one already signed by the IAAF with ESPN for this year’s World Athletic Series events. ESPN also will televise 3 hours of next weekend’s World Indoor Championships in Barcelona.
CBS jumps into the track-andfield world for a special edition of “Eye on Sports” June 4 when the network carries the NCAA men’s outdoor championships on tape as well as live coverage of the Prefontaine Track Classic from Eugene, Ore. In addition, a tribute to Steve Prefontaine will air in between the two meets.
Baseball - what there is of it - returns to the radio this weekend. WMAQ-AM will carry White Sox exhibition games Friday, Saturday and Sunday; WGN-AM does the same with the Cubs. WGN-Ch. 9 has scheduled seven (four White Sox, three Cubs) exhibition telecasts, starting with the Cubs-Brewers March 11. SportsChannel, which has scheduled 99 regular-season telecasts, has no plans to air a Sox exhibition unless the real team returns.
Too late blues
Turner Sports struck a last-minute deal with the U.S. Olympic Committee to televise up to 26 hours of Pan American Games competition in Argentina March 11-26. One problem: The telecasts - mostly late-night - will air primarily on Turner’s regional SportsSouth network and Liberty Sports’ all-Spanish Prime Deportiva cable network. According to a SportsChannel official, Liberty Sports did offer an English-language Pan Am Games package but not until mid-February. “We planned our March schedule in mid-January,” said the SportsChannel official.
HBO starts a three-week series of boxing shows with the Julio Cesar Vasquez-Pernell Whitaker WBA junior middleweight title bout at 7 p.m. PST tonight. Ex-heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe meets Herbie Hide March 11 and Roy Jones Jr. defends his IBF supermiddleweight title March 18 against Antoine Byrd.
Tim Brando begins hosting “Inside the NBA” Friday night as TNT’s postgame show moves away from a highlights package to an interactive, issues-oriented show complete with an 800 phone number… . A remotecontrolled robotic camera on the umpire’s chair will be used for the first time in this weekend’s coverage of the ATP Arizona Championships, which SportsChannel will air on tape in some markets Sunday and Monday mornings.