- The Washington Times - Friday, September 14, 2001

America's major TV networks universally cheered yesterday's decisions to cancel or postpone nearly every major sporting event this weekend, despite the loss of more than 100 hours of programming and tens of millions of dollars in advertising revenue.
Advocates for playing argued that the games would help the nation move on from Tuesday's terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center, and those advocates included several influential network TV executives.
But as concerns about travel and security and continued sensitivity towards those killed or injured in the attacks overwhelmed that desire to press forward, the TV industry raised no objections.
"We at Fox Sports fully support the actions taken by commissioners [Paul] Tagliabue and [Bud] Selig," said David Hill, Fox Sports chairman. "The enormity of the tragedy of Tuesday's wicked and cowardly terrorist act is fully permeating the nation's consciousness, and their decisions to postpone games allows all sports fans, as commissioner Tagliabue put it, 'to pause, grieve and reflect.' "
This weekend's postponements and cancellations include the NFL, Major League Baseball, NHL exhibitions, PGA Tour, NASCAR, Major League Soccer and the major conferences for college football.
Those decisions, set in motion by the NFL's influential move not to play its Week 2 games, touched off a nationwide scramble to find replacement programming.
As of last night, those decisions were set for some networks, and not for others. ESPN will have its primary channel mirror ESPNEWS and become a breaking news operation all weekend, as it did yesterday during the wave of cancellations and postponements. ESPN2 will mirror ESPN Classic and show archival sports footage.
Fox, which was slated to air baseball tomorrow and football Sunday, will turn the time over to its affiliates. Those stations will have the option of airing their own programming or Fox News coverage of the tragedy. NBC, which had more than seven hours of auto racing coverage planned, will give its affiliates the same option.
ABC and CBS, meanwhile, were still deciding whether to follow that course. Programming decisions also will hinge on whether the U.S. makes a retaliatory military strike this weekend.
Lost network revenue easily will reach the tens, and perhaps hundreds, of millions of dollars, either through advertisements simply not aired or make-good advertising taking up future airtime that could have been sold. But with the nation still reeling and death tolls rising, nobody cared about the effects on financial ledgers or program schedules.
"This is clearly a great human tragedy," said Mark Mandel, ABC Sports spokesman. "We're simply not focused on the fiscal or logistical aspects of these decisions."
When it is deemed appropriate, the networks likely will approach the various leagues and request some reductions in their rights fees for this season, industry analysts say. Between many leagues canceling games outright and the softening advertising market, it may not be possible to find enough new advertising time or enough corporate interest to make up for what has been lost.
"If I'm a network, I may want some kind of financial adjustment," said Neal Pilson, former CBS Sports president and now an industry consultant. "But there's plenty of time of yet for those kind of conversations to happen."
CBS Sports' main priority yesterday simply was contacting its far-flung staff and returning them home. The network had more than a dozen on-air reporters, anchors and technical staff driving to Gainesville, Fla., site of the Florida-Tennessee football game, New York or one of the cities set to play host to NFL games.
"We had people starting out on some very long drives, so we needed to get them turned around and soon as the [cancellations] came in," said Terry Ewert, CBS Sports' executive producer. "It's been a frantic day, but this is definitely the right course of action."

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