- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 14, 2001

Cal Ripken's farewell tour may be a joyful affair on the field but not within the offices of Comcast SportsNet and ESPN.
The two sports networks are battling over rights to air games Sept. 23, Ripken's finale at Camden Yards, and Sept. 30, the season-ender at Yankee Stadium. The CSN-produced game is scheduled to air on WBDC-TV (Ch. 50) and WNUV-TV (Ch. 54), with a simulcast on CSN also possible. Either way, the network claims it owns regional territorial rights that protect it from any competing coverage.
ESPN, however, says its contract with Major League Baseball allows it the right to air any late-season games of national importance, such as pennant race games and milestone events. Ripken's retirement falls squarely within that provision, the network says, and it intends to show both games nationally.
"ESPN is a home of major league baseball, and we anticipate national comprehensive coverage of Cal's last games," ESPN spokeswoman Diane Lamb said. "We are now discussing and finalizing our plans."
As much as $1 million in ad revenue is at stake. But officials for Bethesda-based CSN say dollars and cents are not at the heart of their motives.
"This is not so much an ad revenue issue for us," CSN president David Nevins said. "More at issue for us is protecting our contractual rights, our network and our backyard. We view this as an Orioles event, and we think O's fans will want to see our broadcast."
Major League Baseball officials are mediating the issue, with some sort of compromise possible by Sept. 1. The Sept. 23 game is much closer to a resolution in which Comcast likely will retain regional exclusivity while the ESPN feed will reach the rest of the country.
Whether that exclusivity means the entire CSN footprint from southern Pennsylvania to North Carolina or something contained to Washington and Baltimore is still being negotiated.
The Sept. 30 game, however, remains more uncertain. Not only will it be Ripken's final game thus dictating much more interest among all parties but MSG, the Yankees' local cable partner, also must be mollified.
The league has dealt with TV network scheduling disputes many times before. Most recently, the Mark McGwire/Sammy Sosa home chase of 1998 required a daily juggling act for the entire month of September between ESPN, Fox and local cable partners of the St. Louis Cardinals, Chicago Cubs and their opponents. Many of those games received overlapping coverage, something ESPN and CSN both want to avoid with Ripken's swan song.
"We've been down this road before, so we're confident this will ultimately be resolved to everyone's satisfaction," said Vince Wladika, MLB spokesman. "ESPN is a valued national partner that wants to highlight a game of major national importance. But there are number of considerations still outstanding, not the least of which are the local cable partners in both markets."

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