The easiest way to talk about what sport has done to television and what television has done to sport is to talk money. In 1960 it cost $50,000 to buy the rights to the Winter Olympics. In 1964 the price was $650,000, and for 1968 it's costing us $2 million. Last year the NFL completed a two-year deal with CBS that set the network back $28.2 million. For the next two years the figure is $37.6 million. In 1962 a one-minute commercial during an NFL game cost $37,000. Today it's $70,000.
But there's more to it than dollars and cents, obviously. Today there is twice as much sport on national television as there was five years ago, and the relationship has become more subtle and profound. Is television having a salutary effect on sport? Or is it taking it over, changing it and running it?
In recent years, by spending millions of dollars for the rights to sports events, television has become the biggest promoter in history, while at the same time becoming the largest source of information. This sets up a basic ethical conflict that television will have to face soon. Is it going to be strictly an entertainment medium, or is it deserving of journalistic stature?
I believe the gravest danger is the insidious kind of salesmanship that's been creeping into sportscasts. It's bona fide to make institutional announcements if they are identified as such, like the NCAA plug during football games when we superimpose the shield. What bothers me is when we start shilling for an organization, working into our commentary how well balanced a certain league is, extolling the opportunities it holds for youth, the average take-home pay, its liberal retirement plan or, as NBC has been doing, overtly helping to sign kids for the AFL. No one claims CBS owns the NFL, or that it is dependent on the ogres of Madison Avenue, but it's obvious that in addition to reporting football games NBC has to create an illusion of parity with the NFL. This, of course, was what we tried to do when we had the AFL, making, in effect, a silk purse (a high-scoring offense) out of a sow's ear (no defense). It remains to be seen, however, if sheer money can build a sport.
A side effect of the struggle between the rival networks is that the public is beginning to judge the stature of sports events by how much money they command, or what their ratings are. Why this should have any bearing I can't imagine. What difference does it make to people at home that the NFL has twice as high a rating as the AFL? The drama of competition in the arena is becoming secondary. The medium that should be reporting is becoming part of the competition.
Although there are a few sports that are willing to pay for the exposure of television, most of them feel that if the NFL is worth $37.6 million, then they must be worth at least $100,000. Once, for Wide World of Sports, we wanted to show a very brief segment of natives diving off the cliff at Acapulco. The senior diver told us, "There is an Acapulco divers' union to negotiate with, and our going rate for a special is $100,000." We told him the price was a little out of line, and that he'd have to reduce it some or we'd forget about it. "I'll talk to the boys," he said. A few minutes later he returned. "We'll take $10 a dive," he said. He held us to it. He made us pay for all three dives.
If we want to be considered as journalists, we must earn the privilege. But, having earned journalistic status, we should then demand certain basic rights. We have to insist that we name our own reporters, just as our news departments do in covering a space shot. For instance, last year we wanted to use Bill Veeck as a baseball commentator, but the owners wouldn't let us. We should not let leagues or organizations tell us how much we can cover, or what we can cover, or what to do in case of certain occurrences on the playing field.
Much of the published criticism of televised sport is unfounded. People think we're greedy monsters trying to take over sport. Golfers claim they've been disturbed by television cameras grinding behind them. Television cameras have no film. They make no more noise than a light bulb. If we were doing a baseball game in color and asked to change the color of the ball they'd never let up on us, yet last year when the outfielders were having trouble finding fly balls in the Astrodome and Houston experimented with coloring the ball no one said they were tampering with the basic integrity of the game.
The most frequent criticism you hear concerns the timeouts for commercials in football. First of all, if the game has any amount of scoring there's no need to ask for timeouts, but we always talk to the referee ahead of time. If he will cooperate, we ask for the time-outs at natural breaks in the game, such as occur after punts or field goals. Of course, every once in a while you have producers who make dumb mistakes.
We should insist on our right to place equipment where we want to if it doesn't interfere with the progress of the event, and we should be just as insistent on our right to shoot what we want. If we want to show an injured football player writhing on the field we should be allowed to. In the Green Bay-Baltimore playoff game last year Bart Starr got hurt on the first play from scrimmage, and you could barely see it, even on the rerun, although it could well have been the most important incident of the game.
There's no sense unduly emphasizing bloodshed, but guys do get hurt in football, and to pretend otherwise is simply childish. I've seen an ambulance come out on the field and the announcer claim there's a lull in the play. If there is a rocket failure, which is, at the very least, a matter of national pride, the commentator doesn't feel compelled to pretend.
The pressure on television is to put things in the most favorable light. You are judged not only on how you present the event, but on how good the event is. A bad event is somehow your own failure, so subconsciously you let the superlatives creep in. You've got a lot of money invested, you have to make good. For instance, last January, Lindsey Nelson said there were close to 50,000 people at the Crosby golf tournament, which is just absurd.
Of course, the announcer hopes to have a long-term relationship with a sport. Without entirely realizing it, he keeps emphasizing the good points. He doesn't give the scores in a rival league, particularly if his game is 34-0 and there's a 28-28 game on another network. He also gives the impression that the major event is the one he's announcing. This even creeps into news shows, where the first scores given are always those of the events the network is carrying.
In addition, this country suffers from a nice-guy fetish. This is the reason why in football, if a back collides with his own interference and falls down, someone is always credited with making the tackle. No announcer wants to be the one to say that the dumb guard got in the way.
The main trouble is, announcers talk too much. They are like nature. They abhor a vacuum. Color commentators are the ones who are most prone to logorrhea. They feel guilty about the amount of money they get without doing much to earn it. They try to justify being there, instead of making pertinent comments. Out of this come the banalities, the superpositivism, talking about things they have no business talking about. We had Art Devlin, the ski jumper, doing expert commentary at Innsbruck, and Veikko Kankkonen needed an exceptional leap to win the event. As the Finn was in the air Devlin said to Jim McKay, "It's not going to be enough, Jim." He kept on repeating it while the Finns were mobbing Kankkonen and it was obvious that the guy had won. If Art had waited two seconds the computer would have given him the result. It takes a while before ex-athletes get to be objective. When Valeri Brumel set his world high-jump record at Stanford, and 80,000 people were exploding in the stands, we asked Rafer Johnson to comment. He said, "Good jump."
When I got into it in 1960, televising sports amounted to going out on the road, opening three or four cameras and trying not to blow any plays. They were barely documenting the game, but just the marvel of seeing a picture was enough to keep the people glued to their sets. What we set out to do was to get the audience involved emotionally. If they didn't give a damn about the game, they might still enjoy the program. We began to use cranes, blimps and helicopters to provide a better view of the stadium, the campus and the town. We developed hand-held cameras for closeups. We reran the important plays at half time so they could be analyzed. We used seven cameras, three just for environment. We asked ourselves: If you were sitting in the stadium, what would you be looking at? The coach on the sideline, the substitute quarterback warming up, the pretty girl in the next section. So our cameras wandered as your eyes would. Sound had been greatly neglected, too. All they used to do was hang a mike out the window to get the roar of the crowd. We developed the rifle-type mike. Now you can hear the thud of a football when it is punted.
Today the weak point in televising is gross overreporting. We're no longer solely dependent on God-help-us finishes, but we can so easily foul everything up by trying to make it show biz, by saying, what can we do that's different?
Some things advance an industry, others are gimmicks. The isolated camera, instant replay, stop action and slow motion added dimension, but the instant isolated camera—that little picture in the corner—is terrible. These devices are analogous to footnotes. And, like footnotes, the worst thing is to use them excessively. The biggest problem we face is becoming enchanted with our own gadgetry. And the viewer isn't impressed with it. He thinks it's either magic or routine.
If it works in football we try it in other sports. You don't realize how few plays in baseball lend themselves to these techniques. Take a great catch. The only thing interesting is that the fielder is three feet off the ground. It's noteworthy, but you can't savor it like a long touchdown run. Putting a mike on a ski jumper is ridiculous. He doesn't say anything normally. What's he going to say now? "Here I go," or "I'm off, folks"? Just to prove that a microphone works isn't a very noble aspiration.
There's a kind of loose feeling at postseason or all-star games that allows us to do things, and that, in a curious way, is a revealing commentary on the regular-season games. They take things far too seriously then. It's supposed to be fun and games and they make a religion out of it.
Years ago we were doing a baseball game in Japan. The Detroit Tigers were playing an all-Japan team. We thought it would be a great opportunity to put a camera in the dugout and have Bob Scheffing, who was then the Tiger manager, work as a kind of commentator. As it turned out, the Tigers had been partying all night and were tired as hell come game time. Jim McKay would say, "Now we'll show you the excitement in the dugout," and you'd see a bunch of people yawning or falling asleep. Prior to the game, we told Scheffing that although he'd be wearing a mike, he should do just as he normally would. Well, Bunning is pitching, and he gets in a very slight jam. Scheffing figures he'll help us out, and goes out to the mound. But when he gets there he can't think of anything to say. "Jim," he finally tells Bunning, "I want you to get this guy out." Bunning almost fell off the mound laughing.
Some promoters act like they are guarding their virginity when we come into town. They're afraid we are going to ask them to fix the outcome. But the sports that are overly eager to cooperate work against you, too. A promoter who lets you do everything you want is like a girl who gives too much away too readily—it cheapens the reputation. An event gains stature when it stays the way it is. Of course, the reductio ad absurdum would be to set up house leagues and play in a television studio. It might be a lot cheaper.
The wise use of television has to stimulate attendance, as it has done in golf and pro football. If it's a good attraction people would much rather watch it in person. But television can hurt the gates of less successful enterprises. Now that CBS is going to telecast at least one NFL game every Sunday in every market there may be a problem in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh and St. Louis, where they don't sell seats.
The networks need something to distinguish themselves. CBS's image doesn't depend on The Beverly Hillbillies, nor is NBC's based on Get Smart. The image is built on news and sports. Having exclusive rights to the NFL or the World Series or the Army-Navy game is damned near like owning a space shot or the Pope's visit. It has transcended the normal concept of a sports event and become nearly a national institution. Which brings up the question of exclusivity. In England the top four or five sporting events are available by law to anyone who wants to cover them. This, of course, is what occurs in news, most vividly on election night. In theory, people watch the network that is doing the best job. Eventually, I'm in favor of free access in sports as well, but the '68 Olympics, which ABC is going to cover live from Mexico City, will be better served by exclusivity. If none of the networks had purchased the rights to the Olympics, it would not get as thorough coverage, since it would be competing with the presidential campaign, which occurs at the same time.
The concept of exclusivity will have to be reexamined because of the use of other than live telecasts. If NBC has the rights to the World Series and if we want to do a two-minute recap on the 11 o'clock news, NBC doesn't really care. It's traditionally free. But suppose we're televising the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe and suppose a U.S. horse wins and we plan to use the race on Wide World the following week. If NBC uses a minute, or even 30 seconds, of the race on their 11 o'clock news, they have the whole thing, yet we paid for it. Of course, we're prohibited from getting together and saying you take the NCAA and I'll take the NFL, which is restraint of trade and collusion. As for pooling, pooling's for losers.
Overexposure isn't simply television eating up material but sports promoters and organizations trying to drain every last cent out of a product. A network doesn't make much money on big packages, but they set up the other sports, and advertisers like to be with a winner. The only way CBS could get the money back it spent for the NFL was to expand the number of games, but they don't want to sell a million games to break even. To amortize the money we spent to buy the rights to our major golf tournaments we've gone from an hour to an hour and a half on Saturday, and from an hour and a half on Sunday to two hours.
Baseball is a game that was designed to be played on a sunny afternoon at Wrigley Field in the 1920s, not on a 21-inch screen. It is a game of sporadic action interspersed with long lulls. Last year we tried rerunning plays in slow motion. It was redundant. On the other hand, even if nothing is happening in football, there is an aura of anticipation. The huddle is intellectually stimulating. What are they going to do next? You get a semblance of this when the manager goes out to the mound to talk to the pitcher, but how many times does it happen? And the pace and rhythm of football create an instant aura of action. Everyone in baseball walks everywhere. In football, even when nothing is happening, there is the appearance of action. Guys run.
The unique thing about baseball is that it is the only major sport where the function of the principal figure—the pitcher—is to inhibit the action. He is a defensive, anti-action kind of personage, who is, perhaps, analogous in football not to the quarterback but to the middle linebacker. The quarterback stimulates and motivates the action. If the pitcher is doing his job well, nothing happens, which, from the standpoint of television, is deadly.
The geometric beauty of the baseball field doesn't record on the television screen. It's oddly shaped, its ratio is wrong for our purposes. Television has to cover sectors of the diamond. Instead of being able to watch a player, you see him only in the middle of a play, so you never get to know him well unless he is particularly distinctive.
Athletes have a way of understating their achievements. In baseball this is almost a fetish. When a guy hits a home run, he puts his head down, jogs around the bases and then hides in the dugout. When a team wins, it rushes off the field as fast as it can. When Don Larsen pitched his perfect game in the World Series he would have disappeared in two seconds if Berra hadn't jumped into his arms. The moment of exultation is denied to the fans. The excitement takes place out of view of the crowd.
As certain habits have become accepted, an awful lot of puff has been added to baseball. Most people, unless they're aggressive, have to be motivated into action; otherwise they postpone everything, beginning with getting up in the morning. So you've got the pitcher standing there with the ball in his hand because he doesn't know exactly what pitch he wants to throw, and the batter, because he's afraid to strike out, fools around and fools around before he finally steps up to the plate. People will keep doing what they've traditionally been allowed to get away with, like arguing with the umpires in baseball and fighting in hockey, both of which should have no real part in the game; they are, for instance, almost nonexistent in football.
Last year Ford Frick told me after accepting our $5.5 million to televise baseball, "One of the jobs that baseball has to do is keep television from making the show too good. The trouble is that television wants the viewer to see the game better than the fan in the ball park. The view a fan gets at home should not be any better than that of the fan in the worst seat in the ball park." But the problem isn't solely with the owners. Before a college football game we always put a mike on the referee. In our baseball coverage we wanted to put a mike on the head umpire so the viewers could hear the pregame meeting with the managers, but a local station had tried it and the writers protested. If television was on the field, they wanted to be there, too.
Sportswriters love to knock television, but they usually don't start knocking it until they find they can't get a job in it. At one time everyone waited for the sportswriters to tell them what happened. But their function has changed. In a sense it has been preempted by television, because television is simultaneous. Anyway, the newspaper guys have got to resent golden throats making $100,000 to $200,000 a year. They've got to figure they know more about sports than a lot of them. But, generally speaking, next to the College of Cardinals, no group has such self-proclaimed sacrosanctity as the baseball writers. For example, we wanted to put a camera alongside the dugout, but the owners were afraid we'd block someone's view or, more probably, take up seats they wanted to sell, so they let us set up our equipment in one end of the dugout. What we wanted to do was to get low, show the pitcher's face, the batter's, this little war between them, not just tiny dots. The baseball writers claimed that the cameraman would be privy to information overheard in the dugout and relay it to Leo Durocher, who was doing our color. They lodged a formal protest against our violating the sanctity of the dugout.
Baseball is essentially a local sport, a home-town sport, which mitigates against national television. It is probably the most partisan of sports. The fans go to the games out of partisanship, not to see the grace and beauty of the players. And people don't particularly enjoy going to the ball parks, which are often located in out-of-the-way places, or run-down neighborhoods. It's not necessarily a pleasant experience, like driving up to the Yale Bowl.
Baseball should encourage the abnormal. It generally has a pretty high rate of predictability. When a person in the stands catches a foul pop it is often one of the most engrossing moments of a ball game. Despite the close pennant races, the biggest story last year was Marichal hitting Roseboro with a baseball bat. But it's not as simple as saying it's a lousy sport. A good baseball game is probably the most exciting event there is. And there is really a tremendous strategy in baseball that is not widely understood. It looks like things happen at random, that a base hit is luck. The ball goes between two guys. You aren't privy to the fact that they're setting people up, you don't know what the managers are thinking. The key decisions in baseball are usually little decisions. They're not as dramatic as in football, nor as immediately apparent. Baseball doesn't get credit for being the game it is.
Football and television have been ideal partners. They have a great affinity. The shape of the field corresponds to that of the screen. The action, although spread out, starts in a predictable portion of the field. It is a game in which action focuses on individuals. The quarterback is a meaningful focal point. The flow is natural and continuous, not like in baseball, where there is a play at third, then you cut to second, then cut to home plate.
Football also has a larger-than-life physical quality that baseball hasn't exploited. Think of the effect of a closeup shot of the players on the bench, which you never see in baseball. There is also a kind of excitement generated when people are dressed to avoid injury. The uniforms themselves are a sort of premonition of danger; in a sport where the participants wear crash helmets you are constantly reminded of the presence of death. Football has both violence and a chesslike quality that stimulates the spectator between plays so that he isn't merely sitting there and waiting, as he is in baseball.
The home run is the ultimate stroke in sport, but it has become relatively commonplace and is not essentially exciting. Baseball puts too much emphasis on instantaneous action; the trotting around after the home run is anticlimactic. However, in football, the "home run," or the long touchdown pass, is thrilling in its entirety. In football the great moments are both intellectually and esthetically stimulating. If Jimmy Brown is stopped at the line for no gain there at least has been a clash of wills, a physical pitting, a thunderous conflict. But if a batter swings at a pitch and misses, you don't ordinarily get the feeling that the pitcher has actually bested him. On television, sport has to have a quality where even the routine games are interesting. The average football game is set up in such a way that there's generally excitement.
Physically, professional basketball is an excellent sport for television; it's played in a confined area and the cameras can be placed to show the agility, finesse and contact. One of the problems is a growing feeling that everything that occurs before the last 10 minutes of play is inconsequential. This is not really true unless you tune in to find out the result rather than to watch the game, or unless your sole interest is in betting. The end of the game has an intensity and a desperateness, but certainly no monopoly on great plays.
Our principal weakness is that we haven't educated the people sufficiently to the subtleties of basketball strategy, as we have done in football. However, it's not an easy game to do commentary over, because the action is constant. There is no natural break where the expert can come in, and if he tries, another basket is scored halfway through what he is saying and the subject has changed.
One of the difficulties with hockey is the relative obscurity of the players. They are almost nonpeople when they take their uniforms off. On the other hand, one of the reasons golfers have become such super superstars is that they don't have a uniform to take off. Hockey is probably the most exciting untapped sport—all body contact, speed, the lone goalie standing up against the onslaught. It also has a certain grandness. A player who has committed a penalty has to sit in a box in full view. It's personal, you can identify with him. Football is the only major sport where the players commit fouls anonymously. Why?
The rules of hockey are easily understood, so women like it. You are close to the players, and since they don't wear helmets you can see what they look like. It would be a perfect sport if there were one less man on each team. When you've got six players to get through, it's too damned hard to score, it's too cluttered. The plays so seldom work, there is constant frustration.
One of the problems associated with putting hockey on national television is the structure of the game. There are no time-outs or breaks to get the commercials in, and you have the two 10-minute intermissions between periods when you basically have to fill time. Hockey would best lend itself to a combination of tape and live, but when you put something on tape you lose a lot of its appeal.
Another thing is that the coverage of hockey has not been as good as it ought to be. Perhaps color will help. The puck would be easier to see, and there is something about the color of the uniforms against all that white ice. (A football, however, is harder to see in color than in black and white. I'd love to change the color of the football, but I can already hear the screams.) But the major difficulty is that hockey is so fast and the puck is so small. In automobile racing and in skiing, where you're trying to show the reality of speed, you make illusions to create reality. You can't shoot a car or a skier coming at you or going away. If you shoot a car coming at you, it looks like it's parked. That's why we shoot from a helicopter hovering directly overhead; this way, the viewer gets the feeling of the landscape going by. What we ought to be doing with hockey is slowing it down by shooting it from behind the goals.
Golf is a great game for television. First of all, it is impossible to see a tournament as well in person as on the screen and, secondly, we have taken a sport which isn't basically a head-to-head encounter, which isn't even essentially a spectator sport, and have made it so by cutting back and forth between various holes and players, so that, in effect, you've often got the three leaders in the same threesome. We've also changed the pace of the game itself to make it more exciting. For instance, you normally don't have to watch the guys walking. We've been able to take out all the lulls in golf. We know that if Nicklaus is standing over the ball we can put on a minute-and-a-half commercial, or we can cut to Chi Chi Rodriguez and then back to Nicklaus again without blowing it. You can blow golf by not knowing the sport or the players, and live television is like writing on water.
More than in any other sport, golf's heroes have been built by television. Because of the tight closeups, you can see what they look like and watch them register every emotion. By shooting football tight you can get some great pictures. It's very artistic to see the vapor coming out of Bart Starr's mouth on a cold day in Green Bay, but a lot of people want to see the defenses. Arnold Palmer is probably no more animated than Gale Sayers, but you can barely see what Sayers looks like, even in a closeup, because of his helmet and nose guard. In fact, a pro football player has to be a superstar before people are able to recognize him without a number on his back.
As a traditionalist, I wish the PGA Championship were still match play, the Open were 36 holes on Saturday and there were no asterisks in baseball. As a sports fan, I agree that a playoff in golf was not meant to start on the 15th hole, as usually happens on television, but if you look at the real essence of the sport, when you go to sudden-death and make a game of golf hinge on who's best on only one hole you're already compromising the nature of the game, so what difference does it make if it's the first or the 15th?
Although golf has adjusted starting times for television and changed the format of one or two tournaments, its image has not been impaired, its reputation is greater than ever and attendance at the tournaments is way up. Actually, the worst effect of television on golf is that it has slowed play enormously, because the viewers are emulating the pros. If Jack Nicklaus spends 10 minutes over a ball, at least when he does hit it he'll hit the green, but a kid who takes just as much time as his hero will slice it in the woods and probably lose it.
Golf is slowly but inevitably building a bigger audience, but, unlike football, it doesn't have violence or ease of understanding and remains a relatively low-rated sport. The AAU swimming championships have outdrawn the Masters.
However, advertisers like golf because it appeals to a higher type than those who watch the Roller Derby or wrestling, and this kind of viewer will buy certain products, like computers. We are all influenced by our likes and dislikes, and we put things on and then rationalize. I'm ashamed to say it, but if we put on the Demolition Derby for 13 weeks the ratings would go through the roof.
Tennis is perfect for television. It is played in a small, confined area, and there are only two or four clearly defined protagonists. The camera can get close up, surround them. You can hear the sound of the ball. There is more of a hushed drama to tennis than to golf, more apparent physical agility, and it has the same blue-blood, snob appeal.
Ratings are meaningless here. People judge everything against the World Series. It's like judging a Sartre play against Hello, Dolly! Tennis is never going to do spectacularly well in the size of its audience, but it commands a loyal one. Last year, in the finals of the nationals, you had Santana, a Spaniard, going against Drysdale, a relatively unknown South African. You couldn't conceive of anything more disastrous from our standpoint. We used to feel that if an American wasn't in an event you could forget about televising it. And, furthermore, rain interrupted the match for 40 minutes. Yet the ratings showed no one tuned out. One weakness of ratings is that they don't show the degree of listener loyalty it takes to look at a wet tarpaulin for 40 minutes while two football games are being played on the other networks.
The problem is, people in television get acclimated to thinking only in terms of mass audience. We have a responsibility to other than the super profitable, superduper big events. Tennis deserves great exposure, and we owe it to tennis to see that it gets it.
There's a kind of thinking in television that comes from basic competitiveness. It's easier to get advertisers to buy something they can justify with statistics, no matter how tenuous. Tennis gets a total audience of five million people, and we consider it paltry. Why, that's the total live gate in the NFL for a whole season! It's amazing how we discard enormous numbers of people.
With the exception of the Kentucky Derby, horse racing is not a major sport on national television. The Preakness and the Belmont are afterthoughts, and not as compelling. Almost all the interest in horse racing is in the outcome, not in the sport itself. If we had some means of flashing the results electronically, no one would watch it. There isn't any great appeal to it as a sport, because it's not promoted as such. It's like watching strangers playing roulette—it's not thrilling unless you're involved.
Although one of the most popular sports, horse racing is one of the least understood. We in television have not done enough to bring the real sport to the people. The danger, agility and skill involved are virtually never shown or talked about. I don't think this is a sport we do particularly well. It's difficult pictorially. It would take a tremendous number of cameras to cover it properly, and even then I'm not sure we'd get it. The basic problem is that the horses go by so quickly and it's all over so fast. Furthermore, we haven't found a way to explain emotionally and physically exactly what the jockey is doing, and we can't make up our minds whether to focus on the horse or the jockey.
Curiously, the rerun is vastly more interesting than the live race, because at least then you can watch the race somewhat analytically. As with hockey, color might well be a big help in more successfully televising racing, but one problem will always remain: the race only takes a few minutes to run, and to get your investment back you have to be on the air much, much longer, which means there's an awful lot of padding.
The worst sport we've ever televised is unlimited hydros. We get spectacular pictures, but in five years I don't recall seeing one boat pass another. The most beautiful sport for television is figure skating. You don't want to put it on every week, but you don't want to have coq au vin for dinner every night either. Some sports are overexposed if you see them twice a year.
Skiing is enhanced by its setting. It's a real treat to sit in a living room and watch skiers in the Alps. And there is a gentility to winter sports that summer sports don't have. Most winter sports photograph well, too, and they have a family appeal. These factors and the time of year make the Winter Olympics marvelous for television.
There's an inherent difficulty in taking something that is an individual participant sport and making it a spectator sport, which is the major problem with hunting and fishing shows. The thrill of bass fishing is sitting out in a boat on a warm day with no phones ringing. It is not particularly interesting to watch a man catch a bass, although you might enjoy seeing someone catch a marlin. There's a feeling to bass fishing you can get across in a still picture or by the written word that doesn't translate on film. You tend to remember in highlights, but you can't film in highlights. It's hard to do hunting and fishing well once you get away from danger.
I think in the future the big events—the World Series, the football packages, the Open, the Masters—are going to get bigger, but I doubt whether they're going to skyrocket any more. I think skiing, surfing, sky diving—sports that reflect the needs of the time, that have an undertone of danger—will grow, too. I think there will be a leveling off in weekly baseball games, minor golf and track, because they will be judged on their economic merits. I think the future of amateur sports is very bright now that we have communications satellites, as most international sports are amateur. College football will also grow, because it's more than just a display of skill—it has spirit, it's fun to watch.
I think there will be four divisions in the NFL, with two playoffs and a two-out-of-three series to determine the champion, and that the AFL will play its games in the spring.
Next season the AFL will be faced with an almost total blanket by the NFL. The NFL is going to run eight doubleheaders instead of five, it's moving its opening back a week and, in effect, it's eliminating the blackout, so the AFL will no longer have any markets all to itself. If, in the face of all this, the AFL can maintain its rating levels, it'll be a sensational performance. If it can't, it will have to move to a time when it is not opposite the NFL. What network would put it on at night, in prime time? So the AFL will be forced to move to a different time of the year.
I also think you'll be seeing manufactured championships. We'd put up anything to get an NFL-AFL championship game. And they'll be staging match races of different kinds, like who's the best race driver—Clark or Foyt?
One reason televised sports are so popular is the overall growth of sport, but another is the changes in television itself. There are fewer and fewer live shows, which have the potential of something out of the ordinary happening, something going wrong. For example, the big quizzes are history. People like to watch people in dramatic situations, they like the unpredictable, the unknown, they want to watch something that has the quality of an event. It television goes to more and more Academy Awards, Miss Americas, live pickups, it will satisfy some of the viewer's need for sport. If it doesn't, and relies more and more on filmed situation comedies, sport will grow until it's scheduled into prime time on a regular basis.
We're going to use satellites to a greater degree, particularly when we get portable ground stations. Traditional times for viewing sports will alter. People on the Coast watch the Army-Navy game at 10 a.m. and don't think there's anything weird about it. There'll be more light, portable equipment, so we can get closer to the action. We're still shackled by cables and mikes. We'll try to design a tiny camera to put in a racing car without affecting its weight. We'll use microwaves, or cableless television, for golf, so if a key play occurs on the 11th green we will have covered it ahead of time and be able to show it on tape.
The more we advance technically, the harder we make it for ourselves. And when you think you're getting something for free, you're a good deal more critical of it than if you're paying. If you shelled out $8 to get into a stadium and could barely see the field you would still go home feeling how lucky you were to be there. But when you see the same event on television for nothing you raise a fuss if we blow a draw play.
We started all this, I'm sorry to say. Sometimes I wish we hadn't, and were back with four cameras.
THE JACKELOPE HUNTER
Roone Pinckney Arledge, the vice-president and executive producer of sports programs for the American Broadcasting Company, does not use his middle name. "Roone is weird enough," he explains. As far as he knows, there are only three Roones in existence: himself, his father and his 22-month-old son. Arledge has no idea of the etymology of Roone. "It seems to me the most ridiculous name imaginable," he says. "It doesn't seem to mean anything. It doesn't sound particularly nice." Muddled strangers occasionally address him as Roo Knowledge.
Arledge is 34, redheaded, uncommonly cheerful and somewhat elusive. "Roone doesn't have any bad habits," a friend says. "In fact, he has no habits." Arledge was born in Forest Hills, N.Y. and grew up in Merrick, farther out on Long Island. After graduating from Columbia, he became a program assistant for the old DuMont network. He next went to work at NBC, rising in time to producer-director. His last show at NBC prior to leaving for ABC in 1960 was Hi Mom, a children's program.
At ABC, Arledge created a new concept for covering sports ("Take the fan to the game, not the game to the fan" is the catchword), was responsible for such technical innovations as the instant rerun and dreamed up Wide World of Sports, which has presented 87 different sports, ranging from the U.S.-U.S.S.R. track meet to an Eiffel Tower climb.
Arledge readily defends Wide World against its detractors. "You'll find very little of the basket-weaving-type thing," he says. "But certain sports, although small, have a zany or compelling quality. It took me five years to locate a firemen's competition. However, some sports are just second-rate. For this reason we have never done jai alai, badminton, dog racing, squash, curling and archery."
Arledge is more intimately concerned with the physical production of shows than Bill MacPhail or Carl Lindemann, his counterparts at CBS and NBC. He has a direct line from his living room in Bedford Village, N.Y. to the ABC remote unit, and he has been known to use it while a live telecast is in progress, declaiming, "You're shooting too tight. You're blowing the story. Tell Dick Button to shut up."
Arledge's favorite hobby is cooking; in fact, while at NBC he produced and directed several cooking shows. He particularly enjoys preparing game. "Most people ruin game by trying to disguise its flavor," he says. "The greatest compliment they hope to receive is, 'It tastes just like steak.' In that case, why don't they serve steak?"
Arledge is also an avid hunter. His finest trophy is a cape buffalo he shot in Kenya that is believed to be a world record. Another treasured head is that of a jackelope, which is "found" in Wyoming and is a "cross" between a jackrabbit and an antelope. "He was so sincere about shooting one," recalls Sportscaster Curt Gowdy. " 'How much do you lead them?' he asked. 'Are they fast?' "
Arledge is married to the former Joan Heise. They have four children: Betsy, 7, Susan, 4, Patricia, 3, and Roone Jr.
He is especially proud of getting the 1968 Winter Olympics at Grenoble and the summer Olympics at Mexico City for ABC. "After we sewed up the Winter Olympics," Arledge says, "one of the French committeemen said to me, 'I must tell you that NBC was here, too, and told us about the very impressive list of events they carry. In this connection, there is one question I would like to ask you. What are all these bowel games they have the best of?' "