But many within the sports marketing and media industries were surprised that it was ABC and NBC that did the dumping, telling Major League Baseball owners they will not continue with the revenue-sharing joint venture after the current season. MLB owners were expected to do away with TBN and take a rights fee, as owners need the cash.
Moreover, the bitterness of the break-up, with NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol telling USA Today that MLB owners had treated its network partners like "scum," caused many to wonder if lame duck broadcasters ABC and NBC will do right by advertisers, since they have no fiduciary responsibility to the advertisers that cut unguaranteed deals with TBN.
TBN sponsor Anheuser-Busch, in the second-year of a three-year, $100 million-plus deal, declined to comment. General Motors Corp., which has a six-year, $300 million-plus deal, and other TBN sponsors, including Quaker Oats Co.'s Gatorade and Texaco, didn't return calls.
"Advertisers will be watching carefully to see if there's any falloff in promotion," said Bill Croasdale, president of national broadcast for Western Media International, Los Angeles. "But ABC and NBC are honorable. They will live up to their obligations to baseball and advertisers."
"But what's the incentive?" observed a more dubious media buyer. "I don't think they're going to promote a property, build equity in it, only so baseball can sell it off to someone else."
It appears ABC and NBC have given MLB permission to speak with other suitors, and TV industry executives told Advertising Age that MLB representatives had contacted Fox late June 23 to gauge their interest.
But Fox Sports President David Hill has said he won't negotiate with owners until they reach a contract with the players.
CBS also would appear eager to get back on the diamond now that it has no major professional sport to its roster. MLB Acting Commissioner Bud Selig said MLB is now weighing its options.