Call them the Montreal Underexposed. For almost all of their 32
seasons the Expos had their games broadcast locally on radio and
TV in both English and French. But this year they have no TV
deal in either language and no English-language radio contract.
Underground springs are fine if you're Evian, but for a big
league franchise? "I never believed that we'd open the season
not being on the air," says Dave Van Horne, 60, who has been the
Anglophone voice of the Expos since their first game, in 1969.
"It was a bitter, bitter disappointment."
Last winter Jeffrey Loria, a New York-based art dealer,
purchased the team, which in 1999 finished next-to-last in the
majors in payroll ($16.3 million) and last in local radio and TV
revenue (less than $5 million combined). The Expos' contracts
with English-language TV partner TSN, French TV outlet RDS and
French radio station CKAC had expired after 1999. Their English
radio outlet, CIQC, chose to pursue an all-news format.
Loria more than doubled the Expos' payroll, to nearly $35
million, 24th in the majors. He hoped to recoup some of that
investment by negotiating higher radio and TV fees. However, in
Montreal, where there are only three English-language AM radio
stations, media competition is sparse. Thus Loria's strategy to
have media partners pay more was met with a resounding Why? (or,
in some cases, Pourquoi?). "I understand what Mr. Loria meant
when he said this would no longer be business as usual," says Van
Horne. "Still, for the overall welfare of your franchise, you
need to get the games on the air."
On Opening Day, April 3, the Expos hosted the Dodgers. A few
hours before the first pitch they agreed to a one-season deal
with French station CKAC. Van Horne attended the game, keeping
score in the press box. "A couple of times I just felt like
going home," he says. The next day Van Horne was informed by new
team executive president Dave Samson, Loria's stepson, that Van
Horne wouldn't accompany the Expos on their first road trip,
last week's seven-game swing to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Van
Horne, who'd missed only 19 games in 31 seasons, says, "That day
was the lowest point for me."
Ironically, Montreal's English-broadcast shutout will bring Van
Horne the most widespread audience of his career. Sometime this
week the Expos plan to begin Webcasting their games on
www.montrealexpos.com. (English-speaking Expos fans have had to
pick up audiocasts on the opponent's Web site or on
majorleaguebaseball.com.) "So in one way I guess I'm a pioneer,"
says Van Horne, who among National League broadcasters trails
only Vin Scully (51 seasons with the Dodgers), Jack Buck (47
with the Cardinals) and Ralph Kiner and Bob Murphy (each 39 with
the Mets) in tenure. "My brother Alan in Pennsylvania is
ecstatic. He called and said, 'Now I'll finally be able to hear
you every game.'"
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Listeners can at least catch Vladimir Guerrero on the Web.
ROUND AND ROUND
ESPN's saturation coverage of the NFL draft proved dizzyingly
I'm on the clock right now, which means that I have 15 minutes
to write this item. Pardon me, but it's Saturday night, and for
seven hours I've been immersed in watching the Mel Kiper Jr.
Telethon, otherwise known as the NFL draft, on ESPN and ESPN2.
In the history of nonevents you'd be hard-pressed to name
anything that was covered as extensively and meticulously as
last weekend's dispersal of college football talent was by ESPN.
Every NFL locker room, it seemed, housed a Tom Jackson or a
Solomon Wilcots; in every war room this side of Dr. Strangelove
lurked a camera. "We've never before been in all 31 [NFL team]
sites," lead anchor Chris Berman told viewers at the start of
the telecast. As Berman and analysts Kiper and Joe Theismann
manned ground zero--the Madison Square Garden
Theater--information overload was the norm. The names of players
already selected streamed across the bottom of the TV screen.
The right third of the picture had postings such as "Mel's Best
Available" and "Mel's Best OG." As for footage, there was enough
illuminating video showcasing the talents of Hofstra quarterback
Giovanni Carmazzi (the 65th pick, by the 49ers) to win a Jury
Prize at the Sundance Festival.
It's easy to make sport of Kiper's--and ESPN's--monomaniacal
obsession with pro football's job fair. Give them this, though:
No team did its homework more thoroughly.
I can hardly wait for the XFL draft.
"You call guys out the way he did, and nobody is going to have
your back in anything. He thought we weren't helping him up
then. Forget it now. We'll go downfield just the same and crush
people. But you want help off the ground? Get your own ass up!"
--Saints offensive tackle Kyle Turley, on Athletedirect.com,
responding to teammate Ricky Williams's disparaging remarks
about his offensive line in SI (March 20)
The Expos had the plug pulled on local telecasts and their
English radio coverage.