The most stimulating TV game of them all is not a proper spectator sport, for it is fraught with cutpurse morality, unfair play and general dirty-pool derring-do. Such a game shown publicly could warp the moral fiber and soil the security blanket of Super Spectator since he presumably still embraces a cherry-pie belief in American sportsmanship and all-round aboveboardness.
No, the biggest television game is played for keeps in locked executive suites, in dim and very expensive restaurants, on the jump seats of leased Cadillac limousines, with secret recording devices and confidential reports and the planting of damaging information in sensitive places. The object of the game is for one television network to win, wangle, wrest or somehow winkle away from its competitors the rights to televise certain events. Often this can be accomplished through the unvarnished tactic of bidding a lot more money than anyone else. Yet the possibilities for intrigue and originality are endless and irresistible. As Carl Lindemann Jr., vice-president of NBC Sports, says, "This can be a very dirty business." In hot pursuit of games to buy for their networks, the bosses of TV sport—friendly, plain, open-faced, guy-next-door pals though they seem to be in everyday life—are at times transformed into doers of exceedingly sly deeds. And one suspects, since no kind of evil worthy of hue and cry is involved and since the public gets its sport just fine on one network or another, that the opportunity to one-up a foe is part of the pleasure of TV's little family game. In any event, it is a game in which it pays to keep your eyes open.
Consider an afternoon in 1966 when CBS Sports Director Jack Dolph glanced idly out of his office window in the CBS skyscraper and gazed, as he often did "to rest my weary, weary eyes," across the narrow canyon of 53rd Street into an office of the ABC skyscraper—an office occupied by one unsuspecting Barry Frank, Director of Sports Planning for ABC. There, to Dolph's amazement and profound curiosity, he saw sitting at Frank's tweedy elbow one Martin Carmichael, the television representative for the Professional Golfers' Association. Now this might not have piqued Dolph's curiosity or offended his sense of fair play quite so much had it not been true that only hours earlier CBS had made an offer to Marty Carmichael to buy the rights to the PGA tour. As Jack Dolph stared between the skyscrapers—no longer idly—he found that though he could not read lips he had a very clear idea of what was being said. "I'm afraid old Marty was over there shopping our bid," says Dolph. "He spilled our offer and figured ABC would top us by a few bucks, and I suppose old Barry was encouraging that to its fullest extent." Later that same afternoon CBS arranged a confrontation with Carmichael. "Needless to say," recalls Dolph, "Marty was embarrassed and contrite. But ABC got the tournaments, and I believe Barry Frank's office was moved to the other side of the building."
Occasionally, plain misunderstandings can send the best-laid network plans astray. In the scramble for rights to the 1968 Winter Olympics at Grenoble, NBC made a lavish presentation of its sport programming to the French committee. In slide and still photo and film and song the network boasted about the glory of its productions: the World Series, the Orange Bowl, the Rose Bowl, the Super Bowl. When it was all over, the French awarded the rights to ABC. The disappointed NBC group left, and a puzzled Frenchman from the committee tugged at the sleeve of an ABC man and said with genuine bewilderment, "I thought NBC's talk was all right but, please, can you tell me why they keep boasting of their 'Bowel Games.' I thought that showed questionable taste."
January 12, 1970
The complexities in negotiating for an enormous event like the Olympics can be maddening indeed. During dealings for rights to the 1968 Games in Mexico City, scarcely a day went by without one network executive or another picking up his phone and hearing a low Spanish inflection in his ear: "Se√±or, I can deleever the Olympeecs teleevision for you." Many of these calls, it was assumed, came from phone booths in Grand Central Station or Brooklyn candy stores and lacked any mark of officialdom. But no one knew for sure who would be the real influential force on the Mexican committee, so nearly every contact had to be taken seriously. At one point NBC hired an "investigative reporter" (euphemism for you know what) to nose out background information and look for enemy operatives.
The NBC man learned almost immediately, to his network's dismay, that ABC had long since established a beachhead: 18 months before serious negotiations began ABC had dispatched to Mexico one James C. Hagerty, an ABC vice-president, a former press secretary to Dwight Eisenhower and a warm acquaintance of Adolfo López Mateos, who had been one of Mexico's most popular presidents. Hagerty quickly reestablished his Eisenhower-era rapport with Mateos, and soon other ABC agents were forging strong relationships with various members of the Mexican committee. All this sad news was reported to headquarters by NBC's man, and by the time Carl Lindemann arrived in Mexico City, "I knew our case was hopeless. The things that went on in those negotiations, believe me, were not in the tradition of the Olympic Games."
NBC eventually bid $2.2 million and CBS did not bid at all. But ABC came in with a thundering offer miles above its competition: $4.5 million. Whatever rapport ABC's Good Neighbor teammates had established, it did not seem to save the network any money.
Among other things that NBC's man had picked up were rumblings that a Maserati sports car had somehow changed ownership in ABC's dealings with a member of the Olympic Committee. This was never proved. In fact, NBC's people did not even trouble to spread such talk beyond their own bailiwick. Thus, it is worthy of note that in a general discussion with ABC's Roone Arledge about the ethics of negotiation, the subject was again brought up. Let it be made clear that in this particular conversation no specific mention was made of the 1968 Olympics, of Mexico, of Mexicans or of Maserati-made automobiles. Arledge was simply asked a broad question about whether or not he had ever offered gifts of money or other wherewithal to gain favor from men who held control of the rights to any events. With his brow knit in a quizzical frown, he replied hesitantly: "Well, do you mean have I ever given something like—oh, say—a $15,000 Maserati to gain an advantage for something like—oh, say—an Olympics?" And he went on to add, very seriously, "No, no, I haven't. But, of course, if it would save a million bucks or so I suppose I would." His example was an enormous coincidence. What else could one conclude?
Hypothetical Maseratis notwithstanding, the idea of including gifts, favors or cold cash in exchange for an advantage in negotiating for events is by no means anathema to TV sport executives (nor, in truth, is it particularly distasteful to corporate captains from almost any corner of American industry). Whether CBS's onetime president, James Aubrey, did or did not pay $50,000 to find out in advance ABC's bid for the NFL rights in 1964 is perhaps moot. The ethics or lack thereof are not particularly surprising to NBC's Lindemann, who shrugs ("This is the way things are"), or CBS's Bill MacPhail, who smiles ("I don't know if the money changed hands, but it was well spent if it did"), or ABC's Arledge. who mops his ever-damp brow ("The rules of this game are not very clearly defined").
As an object lesson in precisely how undefined are the rules of TV's game, consider the past decade with respect to the NCAA football fortunes in the dollar gardens of television commerce. It is fascinating to watch the foliage change with the seasons.
The 1960 proceedings to get the NCAA football package were a marvel of skulduggery, and the episode has come to be celebrated as The Affair of the Man in the Corner, or How NBC and the NCAA Faced No-Face. Television rights to college football were up for bidding that year, and, as was the common thing then, offers were to be made through sealed, secret bids. This practice has since been discontinued in nearly all sport negotiation in favor of option clauses and a more gentlemanly, civilized and less dramatic method of openly discussing new terms together. The NCAA football package was one of TV's true prizes, and NBC had held the rights since 1956. A cozy relationship had arisen between the network and the NCAA, and it was rather common knowledge that non-NBC bidders for the rights would not be hotly pursued. This applied to ABC most of all for it was considered to be a rinky-dink operation; it had boxing, which was in bad repute, and it had a film golf show and some bowling. One of ABC's top TV-sport consultants at the time, Ed Scherick, recalls the situation: "The NCAA would as soon have had a Martian descend and bid as give their games to ABC. They were accustomed to NBC, the cr√®me de la cr√®me. ABC was a guttersnipe operation to them, third-ranked, to say the least."
What NBC and the NCAA did not know was that ticky-tacky old ABC had suddenly come up with financial help to back a substantial bid for college football. A few months earlier the Gillette company, then one of TV sports' essential advertisers, had approached ABC because NBC was no longer interested in continuing Gillette's beloved Friday-night fights. ABC, desperately anxious to crash the sports business, warmly welcomed Gillette's boxing show and managed also to get a promise from the razor-blade makers that they would underwrite a major ABC bid for NCAA football.
ABC had the invaluable element of surprise going for it because no one suspected it was about to come leaping out of the weeds. It was vital to ABC that nobody find out, for the network's master plotters—Ed Scherick and Tom Moore, then the programming boss—knew they could advance only in the dark of night.
The time set for submitting bids was noon Monday, March 14, in a suite at the Manhattan Hotel. "We assumed CBS would not bid since it was tied up with the NFL," recalls Tom Moore. "And we figured that Tom Gallery [then NBC Sports Director] would bid around $5.5 million or so—maybe a standard 10% increase over the year before." ABC also reasoned that Gallery, wily trader that he was, would bring with him two envelopes (actually, Gallery sometimes brought three), perhaps of different size or different color so he could tell them apart readily. One would contain his low bid, the other his high one. Gallery's strategy, as ABC's high command envisioned it, would be to hesitate a few seconds after the call for bids came from the NCAA officials. Gallery would be waiting to see if anyone stepped forward. No one? Then he would look about the room to see if he could spot anyone from another network. No competition? He would drop his low-bid envelope upon the desk. But was there a rival in the room? The high-bid missive would fall. Clean, neat, simple, efficient and effective.
Every precaution was taken at ABC to avoid a leak or a misstep of any kind. To be certain that everyone would legally believe ABC actually had the money to make the bid, its lawyers came up with an antiquated legal move called "affixing of the seal." Scherick recalls, "It was like the Magna Charta—attested with wax and stamp or something, I think—to prove we were good for the money. And we were so secretive about it that we didn't even let a secretary type the letter. A producer did it. We left a blank where the amount would be until the morning of the bidding."
There remained the major tactical problem of how to get the bid into the Manhattan Hotel and on the desk of NCAA officials without someone from NBC or the NCAA or the press noticing the lurking presence of ABC and sounding the alarm to Gallery. "If Tom Moore or I had gone within five blocks of the lobby," Scherick says, "the word would have spread in a flash. So our decision was to find someone unknown, someone innocuous, someone practically faceless to sort of insinuate himself into that suite without being seen. And we had somebody, Stanton Frankle. Frankle was a cost control administrator. We knew if anyone could melt into wallpaper, Stan was the man." Frankle is a tall, thin, balding fellow with the forgettable appearance of a Midwestern depot agent. At first, a masquerade was considered for Frankle—the old put-him-in-a-tuxedo-and-send-him-in-with-a-pitcher-of-water-as-if-he-were-a-waiter trick. That was discarded in favor of a plain business suit, because, as Scherick says, "We did not want to do anything dishonest, immoral or overtly misleading. We had to be clean as a hound's tooth in this caper." Scherick gave Frankle his instructions. At 11:45 a.m. a Carey limousine would pick Frankle up at the office entrance and take him to the Manhattan Hotel, where he would proceed directly to the NCAA suite. There, Frankle would find several men in the room and some chairs. He would drift quietly toward a corner in the back of the room, preferably snuggling into the drapes at that point and, ever so quietly, he would wait. "I told Stan that if anyone asked who he is, he should tell the truth," recalls Scherick. "I said, 'You will see a man there who is obese, balding, with a fringe of black hair. That is Tom Gallery. He is your enemy, and the longer you stay hidden from him, the better chance we have of winning our just rewards.' Then we shook hands. We were very emotional about the whole thing—as if Stan were Sergeant York about to infiltrate the enemy lines."
As in true high-style espionage, the ABC command also dispatched on the heels of Stanton Frankle a second Carey limousine with a second ABC man carrying a second sealed envelope. Scherick told the backup agent: "If you see Stanton hit by a cab or run over by a bus or knocked down by a bicycle or involved in an accident of any kind, let him lie. Do not touch him. Do not stop. Do not even slow down. Go to the Manhattan Hotel and do the deed."
Moments before Frankle was to leave the ABC office the blank space in the bid letter was filled in for $6,251,114 ("I thought the small change added personality," says Scherick). The figure would hardly overwhelm NBC's high bid but ABC was confident it would beat NBC's low bid, and anyhow it was all the money ABC felt it could put up.
When Stanton Frankle reached the Manhattan Hotel, he entered the NCAA suite and saw Tom Gallery in a chair up front. Yes, it looked like he had two envelopes. Frankle sidled toward the drapes, passing numerous men he did not know, and stood inconspicuously in the back of the room. In a few minutes Asa Bushnell, TV program director of the NCAA, announced from his seat at a table at the head of the room that all bids should now be brought forward and presented.
True to ABC briefing officers' predictions, Gallery looked around, glanced at his envelopes, then checked the room once more. No one moved. At last Gallery rose and put an envelope on the table—presumably his lower bid. And now Stanton Frankle stepped forward to introduce himself and present ABC's bid. Astonishment reigned, along with ashen faces and barely concealed rage. But the bids were opened, and ABC was the proud possessor of NCAA football for 1960-61. The margin of victory over NBC was $1,051,114. The NCAA was not overjoyed, but it had no choice. "That was the beginning of the big sports breakthrough for ABC," recalls Tom Moore.
College football spent two years on ABC, two on CBS, two on NBC and then returned to ABC in 1966. In the interim, however, pro football rose to new peaks and the men of the NCAA were becoming increasingly sensitive on the subject. In 1965 there was deep suspicion that the NCAA curtly rejected renewal of an NBC contract simply because that network had taken up with the AFL. That year, strangely, even though NBC had fully expected to continue its NCAA association, there was no open bidding at all, no negotiating and no serious talks between the NCAA and NBC over contract renewals. Suddenly NBC received a terse two-line telegram from the NCAA announcing that the college football package would henceforth be televised by ABC.
"We were apoplectic" says NBC's Lindemann. "Legally they didn't have to give us a shot at it, but morally they sure had an obligation." Lindemann fired off a telegram of outrage to Asa Bushnell in which he attacked the NCAA for its "shoddy treatment" and for ignoring "any spirit of fairness" by not telling NBC that its AFL affiliation had disqualified it from bidding for NCAA rights. In parting, Lindemann accused the NCAA leadership of being "a discredit to amateur athletics" and of showing "exceedingly poor business judgment." He released the whole seething missive to the press.
But all that was just stomping on sour grapes. ABC had college football for four years, and NBC was left with its spent wrath and the AFL. Time passes, the world turns. Now it is 1970, and how has everyone fared in the interim? Prized though the NCAA package was, ABC had trouble selling advertising around it during the 1968 season and network executives let it be known that they took a $1.8 million bath for the year. The NCAA, through its doughty executive director, Walter Byers, let it be known in turn that it did not believe a word of this. In the spring of 1969 renegotiation began on a contract for the 1970 and '71 seasons. ABC had an option to renew, but a clause stated that if the network and the NCAA could not agree on terms after 45 days, the NCAA's television committee would lay down a final set of specific conditions. Then if ABC did not meet those terms, the NCAA could offer the TV rights to college football to any other network that was willing to meet the precise terms offered ABC.
Considering its proclaimed 1968 losses, ABC was not interested in going much above $11 million a year in its renewal. The NCAA asked $13 million. ABC might have agreed to that figure if the NCAA had shown some interest in one of television's most tempting dreams: a college championship playoff tournament between the nation's best teams. As it has for years, the NCAA squelched the idea. Bargaining between the parties remained deadlocked. Weeks passed and the deadline for renewal was nearing when Roone Arledge suddenly announced that ABC had bought a piece of pro football with a Monday-night package in 1970.
How would the supersensitive NCAA react to sharing a network with the pros? Wouldn't this be construed as heresy? Already there had been reports that the NCAA's 13-member TV committee had come within a field goal of passing a motion that would disallow any network from having college football if it also had pro football. The NCAA's Walter Byers primly denied such stories. "We have lived with pro ball in the past. We see no reason to panic now. We would never think of asking that a clause be inserted in our television contract forbidding the network from carrying pro games. Whoever thought up that idea ought to go back to the think tank."
The deadline was crushing in on ABC and there was no agreement in sight. The NCAA was adamant in its demands, and the two parties still were $1 million a year apart. Now there occurred one of those grand, strategic tiltings of terrain that make it so hard to keep track of TV-sport alliances. As with most dealings of this nature, the shiftings were born in expedience and bred in a desire for profits, but even with that the relationship was startling. NBC—which had been summarily excommunicated a mere four years earlier—was now palsy-walsy again with the NCAA. Yes, that amazing group of guys at the NCAA had, it appeared, lifted their censure. Bygones were to be bygones. Forgiveness was in the air. Well aware of the NCAA's instinctive, if unofficial, distaste for sharing a network with pro football, NBC executives sensed that perhaps the time was ripe to repent, cast away their association with the AFL and offer themselves, newly cleansed, for NCAA absolution. Their initial contacts with the NCAA were met with warmth, and soon NBC was taking a profound interest in the conditions that the NCAA would demand of ABC once the 45-day deadline had expired.
Since it was commonly believed that Roone Arledge would not pay more than $11 million a year and since his network was already locked into a pro football contract for 1970 (which NBC was not), it would have been greatly to NBC's advantage if the NCAA's negotiators included two particular conditions in their final terms: 1) a clause proscribing any network from carrying both college and pro football games, and 2) a clause demanding a mildly exorbitant amount of money—say, $12 million or more a year. Given those conditions, ABC would fall by the wayside, NBC would renounce the AFL, put up the ransom money as demanded and, having met all requirements, would live forever after in benign bliss with Walter Byers and simon-pure amateur sport.
A lovely dream. The powers of the NCAA did indeed set a $12 million figure for the contract, but they could not find it in themselves to write in a clause outlawing pro football—their lawyers were nervous about restraint of trade and all that. This came as a cruel blow to the anxious suitors at NBC when, at a very private meeting in early June, they were shown the final terms of the demands to ABC. Deeply saddened, an NBC man groaned to Walter Byers, "My God, Walter, they're going to accept this." To which Walter Byers replied confidently: "No, they won't."
While the NCAA-ABC negotiations were in limbo, Walter Byers had made this comment in reply to a question: "Based on my recent experiences in connection with the negotiations for the 1970-71 telecasts, I would say that college football is one of the most desirable single sports packages in American television. Indications now are that our return from the football package will be higher than it has been for the last two years. We will receive more money because we are being offered more, not because we are putting a gun at someone's head."
When the NCAA letter of terms and conditions arrived at ABC, Roone Arledge was predictably appalled at the amount of money demanded. The NCAA had not put a gun to his head, but a cannon. Soon word spread to key owners of the network's affiliated stations that Arledge had decided he could not go much above $11 million to get college football, that the package would be lost. But some affiliates had been less than delighted by ABC's Monday-night pro football deal, and now they insisted that the network stick with college football on Saturdays—or else. It took some desperate wheeling and dealing, but eventually Arledge managed an almost unprecedented arrangement with the stations: they would agree to cut back their compensations (paid by a network to stations for running network programming) on NCAA telecasts. Then the network would have a chance to break even at $12 million. With that done, ABC accepted the NCAA terms. NBC was done in again.
Quite coincidentally, while these NCAA negotiations were under way, Roone Arledge sat down one night in a hotel suite in Houston and unloaded a perceptive analysis of what his world was coming to:
"It's no fun anymore. The negotiations are so damned sensitive, so damned bitter. It seems everybody's out for the jugular vein. It's gotten so the biggest status symbol in sport is how high your TV dollar is. It doesn't matter how good the event itself is, or how it is presented, just so long as TV paid top dollar for the show. Statesmen don't exist in sports. The guys who represent amateur associations or committees want nothing so much as to go back to the boys at home and make a speech saying, 'Hey, fell as, look how we held up TV this time. Look at all the money we brought home with us.' Sure, I suppose it's a lot easier to make a speech like that than to stand up and explain that they got a few bucks less, but that they also got fewer commercials in the games. It is easier to explain a big buck than to say you won a point of principle, I guess."
There is some truth in what Arledge says, for there are times when the game does seem secondary to the receipts. Perhaps there are circumstances when the very conjunction of pure sport and corporate profit is anathema, an untenable mixture in which one is doomed to failure—or distortion—by its very contact with the other.
But there is also more than a modicum of media self-serving in Arledge's feelings, for TV executives do dearly love to blame the raging cost of TV sport on administrators and entrepreneurs who sell the rights at astronomical rates, rather than on themselves for willingly paying absurd prices. The environment in which inflation thrives has been created in large part by the networks. Because they are barred—understandably—by antitrust laws from cooperative internetwork discussions or manipulation about the price of rights to specific events, network sport executives resort to a very expensive form of blindman's buff in order to grope to some ground on which to base a bid. This, plus an instinctive distrust of their competitors, has led to some extremely high bids. Last year the total network investment in sports events was $150 million. And only ABC, of the major networks, even claims to make a profit on sport.
The others speak reverently of public service and are more or less reduced to buying and programming sport simply to maintain "prestige." One irony of this is that such "prestige" is primarily an insider's currency, valuable largely within a smattering of people—the lords of Madison Avenue, affiliated station owners, sponsors, very large stockholders and various stars in the network presidential galaxy. You can bet your set that not 5% of televiewers can tell you which network carries which programs, be it Cronkite, Disney or Super Bowl.
The ranking seeker of prestige today is ABC. Under Arledge, ABC has recently proved to be as shrewd and tough as they come at TV's great game. Though he is pink and portly and very personable, and though he once won prizes for production of a bit of electronic fudge called Hi Mom, do not be misled by Roone Arledge. He lives by the motto of his mentor, Tom Moore: Anything goes in television sport.
"Roone is a nice guy, but he can be so cunning," says CBS's Bill MacPhail. "We all go to each other's events. I go to the Series, Carl goes to the Derby, Roone goes to the Masters, but Arledge doesn't have a sense of propriety sometimes. I mean, he's at the Derby and I look up and what do I see? Arledge having lunch with Wathen Knebelkamp, the president of Churchill Downs. For all I know, Roone is trying to steal the Kentucky Derby from me right before my eyes!"
Well, it is probable that Roone is trying to steal the Derby, or at least borrow it for a while, for, as he says, "If we want an event, we go after it with all we have. We romanced the hell out of the Rose Bowl people; we had Lathrop Leishman [Rose Bowl chairman] out playing golf with Byron Nelson. We gave him the works, but he wouldn't leave NBC."
ABC is openly wooing the Orange Bowl (so far to no avail), and it won the Sugar Bowl and the East-West Game away from NBC. For years ABC has tried to convince canny Cliff Roberts that he is being underpaid by CBS for the Masters—that ABC would offer more. But traditionalist Roberts remains a CBS fancier, partly because Masters officials have no interest in increasing the tournament's income.
Another major event that has sold rights for less than it could get is the U.S. Open, which is on ABC. Arledge speaks with grand affection of the U.S. Open: "The USGA said it would keep the price for the Open the same as it had been if we promised to cut the number of commercials in the telecast. We did, and everybody benefited, especially a few million golf fans. That is the kind of statesmanship I wish there were more of in sport."
There is statesmanship and there is salesmanship and there is brinkmanship. One of Arledge's favorite tactics has come to be known as "the ABC closer." It is an artless device, but only men with strong, steady heartbeats should try it. As a competitor explains it: "They throw out a figure—probably somewhat larger than expected. Then they say the offer will be withdrawn if not accepted within 24 hours."
There is no better example of the tension, intrigue and burglar's courage required in a summit negotiation involving Arledge and ABC than the story of how the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich—a juicy plum for any network—came to rest in ABC's fruit basket.
As is common in these things, negotiations opened surprisingly early—in March 1968, months before the Mexican Games even began. "I made the Germans a bid of $6.5 million for rights," says Arledge. "I thought it might be too much, but I didn't want to wake up and see in the morning paper that NBC had just landed the '72 Games." To be certain there would be no misunderstanding, Arledge flew to Munich himself with his bid and presented it to Herbert Kunze, secretary general of the Organizing Committee for the 1972 Olympic Games. Anxiously Arledge watched for Kunze's reaction to the offer. The German was silent for a moment, then looked up with deep sadness in his eyes.
"Is that your whole offer?" he asked.
Puzzled, Arledge replied, "Yes, Herr Kunze, that is my whole offer. Why do you ask me that?"
"I am very disappointed," answered Herr Kunze. "Most disappointed."
"Then please tell me what you're thinking of," Arledge said.
"We were thinking of $30 million," Kunze answered. Arledge gulped and said in a strangled voice, "I, well, I don't know how to answer you, Herr Kunze. I have been in these negotiations dozens of times, and never have I been off by $23 million."
The $30 million was, of course, a mad preliminary feint on the part of the Germans. The asking price skidded down rather rapidly to $20 million, then $16 million. NBC was active in the bidding, too, and in January of 1969 Carl Lindemann flew to Germany and met with Dr. Klaus von Lindeiner, a lawyer on the Munich committee. NBC had opened at $9.5 million and upped its ante to $11 million with a promise that there would definitely be more—even though a 26-page NBC accounting report indicated that the break-even point came at around $10 million.
ABC countered by slowly upping its ante, for top network brass had come to an epic decision—ABC would junk 47 hours of its prime-time programming and replace it with Olympic extravaganzas. (At one point Chuck Howard, ABC vice-president of program production, was reminded that television of the national political conventions of 1972 might conflict with ABC's August schedule for the Olympics, and Howard boldly replied, "I think the political conventions might do well to schedule their business so it doesn't run head to head against the Olympics.")
As matters remained unresolved, Arledge considered letting fly with the ABC closer, then decided against it. "We just didn't dare chance a take-it-or-leave-it situation. NBC was breathing too close, and we figured they might top us." The U.S. Olympic Committee had written a glowing letter to the Munich group about ABC's work at the 1968 Olympics, but NBC had neutralized that somewhat by planting stories in German trade papers and financial magazines about ABC's financial position. "We kept saying—very pointedly—that we never had trouble paying our bills," says Lindemann.
Eventually, ABC-TV President Elton Rule arrived in Munich, too, for the final showdown. The pressure was on Arledge and ABC, and a series of meetings began with the German committee in surroundings packed with all the trappings of the Treaty of Versailles—an enormous, long, polished table, sheets of foolscap, water carafes, assistants, aides-de-camp and interpreters. "It was like a Geneva conference," says Arledge. "I felt like Henry Cabot Lodge."
Slowly, negotiations progressed until at last the timing seemed ripe for a final confrontation. "We were only $200,000 apart, as I recall," says Arledge, "but we knew that if we ever left the room without an agreement they'd go straight to NBC. We were prepared in that event: we had a fat scrapbook full of rave reviews of our coverage at Mexico City, plus a batch of the reviews about NBC's coverage of the '64 Games in Japan that was very unimpressive. But we wanted to avoid that and finish it up on this one night if we could."
The ABC team had just begun to probe cautiously, trying to tiptoe up to a point where it could make a last irrevocable offer. The Germans were wary, but obviously interested. The air, as they say, was fraught with promise when, without warning, Dr. H. C. Rudolf Eberhard, a man whose powerful influence had come to be more and more apparent, suddenly began stuffing papers into his briefcase. Then he briskly pushed his chair back from the table, rose, clapped his hat upon his head and said, "Good night, I must catch my train home."
Arledge stammered, "Herr Doctor—catch your train? You're going home on your train? Now? This is the biggest TV sports negotiation in history, and you say it's time to catch your train home?" The good doctor said that Herr Arledge was absolutely right about that, and, after a brief stiff bow to the men at the table, he vanished out the door, not to return.
Unnerved, Arledge and his colleagues cast anxious glances at each other, debated briefly in whispers and negotiated on for a while. It was a waste of time. After a game try, ABC sank to its knees in total surrender. "We gave them the whole bag—all of it," says Arledge. "We thought of hanging on to save a few bucks, but then we just gave them everything they asked."
ABC had flung $13.5 million on the Munich table that night—$7.5 million for rights and $6 million to use German facilities. "We found out," says Arledge, "that we were lucky we did give them all they wanted. They told me later they would definitely have gone to NBC if we hadn't settled that night. They said that once Herr Eberhard left to catch his train, they were stuck. They couldn't have taken a nickel less than they did because he would have second-guessed them to death."
That completed TV sport's most magnificent deal, involving as it did an unprecedented schedule of satellite use, an astonishing commitment of prime time and an eventual expenditure of nearly $20 million when ABC's own production costs are heaped atop the $13.5 million already committed.
Ah, but it's only money and, as Roone Arledge says, "If I'm going to blow a lot of it, I'd rather do it on the Olympic Games than the Bluebonnet Bowl." He has.
How Heidi became a sport celebrity, tension behind mike and camera, and what happens in St. Joe when NBC does its best.