Journalist Sarah Palin should ask why TV money will fund an NFL lockout
TUESDAY, 30 NOVEMBER 2010 11:52
BY EVAN WEINER
THE BUSINESS AND POLITICS OF SPORTS
So Sarah Palin wants "to help clean up the state that is so sorry today of journalism." Palin also has "a communications degree. I studied journalism, who, what, where, when, and why of reporting." Let's take Sarah Palin, who has a communications degree from one of the five colleges she attended in six years, at her word that she really wants to help clean up journalism. Let's give the former Alaska TV sportscaster an assignment and see how she does.
Palin is employed by Rupert Murdoch's FOX News Channel so it should be rather easy for her, as a onetime Vice Presidential candidate in the United States, to score an interview with the naturalized American citizen Murdoch. Palin, the former sportscaster, should begin the interview with her boss with a simple question. "Mr. Murdoch, why are you helping to underwrite the National Football League lockout which is slated to begin in March 2011?"
Palin's second question of the Australian-born media mogul should get right to the core of Murdoch's FOX News Channel and New York Post audience. "How does your guarantee of paying hundreds of millions of dollars in rights fees to the National Football League in 2011 help your audience, "real" Americans, even in the event that the 31 owners and Green Bay's management lockout the players and no games are played?
Palin should then just go with the flow and ask a few more questions "is providing financial support for a labor action by a custodian of the public airwaves — Murdoch owns a number of television stations across the United States. He had to become an American citizen to do that after being an illegal alien owning the New York Post before he was naturalized — a proper use of a television station license?" And, "is it in the public interest to use monies generated by News Corp-owned stations (including WNYW and WWOR in New York and WTFX in Philadelphia and 24 other stations), to support the NFL ownership group?"
To expand her report and show off her journalism skills Palin should invite Jeffrey Immelt, the General Electric Chairman of the Board and Chief Operating Officer (and at present owner of NBC), Robert Iger, the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Walt Disney Company (and ESPN owner), Sumner Redstone, the Chairman of CBS and Michael White, the President and CEO of DirecTV to appear on her report on the potential NFL lockout.
Iger should jump at the opportunity to chat with Palin after Sarah's oldest daughter Bristol brought new viewers and tons of phone calls over the past few months to the ABC show, "Dancing With the Stars," along with more advertising dollars.
Palin could pose the same questions to Iger and Redstone that she did to Murdoch and ask whether it is ethical that Iger's ESPN and White's DirecTV is taking subscribers money to provide a cushion for NFL owners. After all, Congress in 1984 kept ESPN alive (along with other cable TV networks) by allowing multiple system (cable TV) operators to bundle financially struggling networks like ESPN, CNN and The Weather Channel and to place them on a basic expanded tier, which is a direct restraint of trade in a free market society. The result was cable consumers now pay for networks whether they watch them or not. All basic subscribers pay for channels that only a fraction watches; and it is all legal because of the Cable TV Act of 1984 which was signed into law by the champion of free market — President Ronald Reagan. The whole issue of why media companies and by extension their news divisions (with the exception of DirecTV, which does not have a news division) are supporting NFL owners needs to be explained to the very "real" Americans that Palin says she stands with.
Murdoch, Iger, Immelt, Redstone and White agreed to individual contracts with the NFL and paid a lot of money for the right. They also told the NFL that they would cover (financial not in depth news) the owners in the event of a lockout and at some point down the road would get a rebate if the owners' lockout in 2011 forced the cancellation of games. But the NFL never lowers rights fees. When the contracts are renegotiated down the road, the NFL will still have big leverage over the TV networks — NFL games are among the top rated TV shows in the United States and attract the 18-34, 18-49, 18-54 male demographic that advertisers want. The NFL TV guys, Dallas's Jerry Jones, Denver's Pat Bowen, can ask for the moon; but that doesn't mean Murdoch, Igor, Immelt, Redstone and White's predecessor at DirecTV needed to give the NFL whatever they wanted. The 2011 season rights fees will go into the owners' war chest in the battle with the players; and because of that the owners will have an enormous edge over the players in the bargaining talks, as they can hold out while players' careers are brief and any games lost to the lockout will impact the players' pockets far more than the owners'.
The owners want to reduce the players' take of revenues from 59 to 48 percent and chop salaries by 18 percent. The TV people are in the owners' corner in the labor action which brings up a point. Are the TV networks shilling for the rich and elite, or do they care about "real" Americans? What does that say about their ability to real provide "fair and balanced" news?
In all seriousness, could ABC, CBS and NBC news divisions really report on the NFL owners' lockout in full detail, knowing the corporate bosses are providing much needed leverage for the owners? Could the FOX News Channel and ESPN lay out the story? The answer is no. No one on the FOX News Channel, MSNBC or ESPN is going to criticize Murdoch, Immelt or Iger. Katie Couric and her CBS news division is not going to go after Redstone. But Palin did run for Vice President and as a journalist she should have the gravitas to actually get Murdoch, Iger, Immelt, Redstone and White on record to explain their decisions.
Murdoch's FOX syndication arm (FOX is not a true TV network) owes the NFL an awful lot. Murdoch got the rights to NFC Games in 1993 with a four-year, $1.58 billion offer beating out CBS. Murdoch's FOX had The "Simpsons" and a few other programs like "Married With Children" and "Beverly Hills 90210" that garnered some interest on many weak stations. With the NFL, a powerful TV franchise in his back pocket, Murdoch also took away two strong CBS affiliates in Detroit and Milwaukee in early 1994 and all of that resulted in the loss of audience share for CBS' Sunday night news magazine, "60 Minutes." FOX also got a promotional platform for prime time shows during NFL games and ended up with a Super Bowl. The NFL built FOX and allowed Murdoch to move ahead with the FOX News Channel. CBS returned to the NFL in 1998, taking away NBC's AFC package with an eight-year deal. NBC returned in 2006 with a Sunday night package, Disney's ABC Sports was folded into ESPN's camp and in 2006, Monday Night Football shifted from over-the-air ABC to the cable ESPN.
Palin, the journalist, could conclude her in depth report by getting into the political arena by interviewing Congressional Republicans and asking if they plan to review the whole question of why and how Murdoch, Iger, Immelt, Redstone and White are using public airwaves or cable/satellite TV subscriber fees. The House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform seems like a good place to start hearings on television's role in an NFL lockout.
The players association is asking elected officials in NFL cities to get involved with the negotiations, claiming there is a huge potential for major economic losses with NFL football in 2011. The NFL Players Association Executive Director should be playing the public financing of stadiums card just to educate the public about the real costs of football and sports in the United States and to reveal how "real" Americans are paying a variety of taxes to support sports facilities around the country. Palin, who apparently favors small government and less government spending, should ask about the billions upon billions of public tax dollars that are spent for facilities, including the one she approved in Wasilla, Alaska when she was mayor of that city for a junior hockey franchise that ended up in her town.
Palin is right about the quality of journalism today. Glenn Beck passes for a journalist, as do all of the yellers and screamers on cable TV news and AM talk radio. None of them really goes into any depth or perhaps even has the ability to be a savant even though CNN's Anderson Cooper is trying to "keep them honest."
The entire politics of the potential NFL lockout includes a conversation on workers' rights, medical/health benefits, retirement payments, government's role in infrastructure (stadiums), the National Labor Relations Board, Congress, the Oval Office and the media. Sarah Palin, of all people, could use her FOX credentials to work the story and get the info out to "real" Americans. Somehow though, it seems very unlikely that Palin would find the time and do the proper interviews with the proper people. "Real" Americans may not have an entire NFL season starting in March which includes the April Draft, mini-camps, free agency and then finally training camp. Someone should explain why this is happening and how Murdoch, Iger, Immelt, Redstone and White have fingerprints all over the potential loss of the NFL during next season by underwriting an owners' lockout.
Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at www.bickley.com or amazonkindle. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org