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Less than a month into its rookie year, Fox is emerging as a major player in network TV sports.

After wresting the National Football League's NFC rights from 38-year incumbent CBS, Rupert Murdoch's fledgling Fox Sports unit has set its sights on a number of marquee sports properties, including the 1998 Winter Olympics.

Advertising Age has learned that Fox has hired Marvin Bader, a veteran Olympics TV operations expert with stints at ABC and NBC, to evaluate the logistics of Fox coverage of the 1998 Winter Games from Nagano, Japan.

The move signals Fox's intent to bid aggressively on the Games on Jan. 19, when the International Olympic Committee is expected to select a U.S. telecaster.

"It's a good assumption," said Mr. Bader, who described himself as "just a consultant" for Fox Sports President David Hill when reached by phone at the unit's Los Angeles headquarters last week.

Olympics officials originally expected the 1998 rights fee to increase only moderately over the current $300 million CBS is paying for the 1994 Games in Lillehammer, Norway. But with Fox stalking the 1998 Games, some believe the rights could balloon to as high as $400 million.

"The Nagano Games are going to cost many, many yen," said Steve Auerbach, senior VP-director of national broadcast at DeWitt Media, New York. "And CBS has a lot of yen now that they don't have football, but so does Rupert Murdoch."

While ABC and NBC are also expected to make bids, executives close to the process believe it will come down to CBS and Fox.

CBS could look like a loser either way. If Fox wins the rights, it will have beaten CBS out of its second marquee sport. If CBS wins, it most likely will have been forced into overpaying for the rights to beat an ag-38

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gressive Fox bid.

The Olympics bidding war continues a bitter sports feud between Black Rock and Mr. Murdoch. Fox first assaulted CBS Sports in 1992 by upstaging CBS' Super Bowl halftime program with a live special dubbed "The Zaptime Show."

Fox executives had planned a similar ambush for CBS' coverage of the 1994 Winter Olympics next month-a weeklong interactive, prime-time programming stunt called "The '94 Fox Games." But Fox decided to hold off and schedule the event later in the year.

Fox Sports is also examining bids for a number of other high-profile network sports, including Wimbledon tennis, now in the final year of a contract split between NBC and Home Box Office.

"Wimbledon has told us that they won't even consider our bids until they hear from Fox," an HBO executive said. "The sports marketplace has changed now because of Rupert Murdoch."

And Fox is expected to chase heavyweight boxing as a network sports option.

Fox executives considered airing a heavyweight championship bout-absent from network TV since the rise of pay-per-view-as a '93 encore to its Super Bowl "Zaptime" show but were unable to reach an agreement with then-champion Riddick Bowe.

Fox Sports is staffing up and is expected to name George J. Krieger as exec VP, reporting to Mr. Hill. Mr. Krieger rejoined Fox Inc. last summer to assist in its NFL bid. He was previously president-ceo of CBS/Fox Video and before that was VP-sports for HBO, where he was credited with bringing together the pay TV network and professional boxing.M

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