Fox tackled by Stringer

CBS Broadcast Group president Howard Stringer Monday lashed out at Fox Broadcasting for swiping the Eye web’s longtime National Football Conference franchise.

Appearing before supportive affiliate members during the first of a three-day closed-door meeting at the La Costa resort in Carlsbad, Stringer pledged the network would continue to air the “NFL Today” pre-game show from noon-1 p.m. on Sundays after Fox gets the NFC games next fall.

The web will return the 1-3:30 p.m. slot to affils and create a network franchise to program the 3:30-6 p.m. block, according to affil sources who attended the session.

One of the many options that CBS officials discussed with affils is the possible creation of a new professional football league to compete against Fox.

Affils say CBS is preparing to fend off an expected Fox assault on its affils in some 50 small markets, the largest being 83rd-ranked South Bend, Ind., where the weblet has no coverage.

Stringer managed to deflect any criticism from affils by beating them to the punch.

“I have never seen Stringer more (angry),” an affiliate member said. “He really is furious and intends to punish Fox in every way he can. It’s going to be a real grudge match.

“In terms of putting out fires, he did a simply magnificent job. The corporate spin … is ‘don’t panic, this is going to be a long war.’ ”

Affils backing

Affils, with the massive losses from CBS’ Major League Baseball contract still fresh in their minds, unanimously supported CBS’ decision not to match Fox chief Rupert Murdoch’s astronomical bid of $ 1.58 billion to obtain NFC rights over four years.

“They would have to take it out of someone’s hide … and it always comes back to compensation cuts,” an affil member said.

Fox to pay

Stringer swore to affils that Fox would pay for the NFC raid in terms of both ratings and coverage.

The CBS Television Stations will pay in dollars, with sources estimating that its O&Os will lose at least $ 25 million-$ 30 million annually without football — all pure profit since there were no overhead costs involved.

According to sources, Stringer vowed the money that CBS saved from the football rights would be reinvested in programming during the February, May and November sweeps.

One affil said that while he suspected that Stringer engaged in a little “play acting,” he seemed genuinely mad and hurt.

“It was a strange combination of mourning and anguish,” a source said.

CBS Sports prez Neal Pilson and Broadcast Group exec VP Peter Lund also addressed the affiliate body, with Pilson reportedly bashing the NFL for its handling of the negotiations.

Football dominated the session on Monday, but during the remainder of the meeting, affils will deal with a number of other sports and programming issues.

The network is expected to ask the affils to turn over more ad time to the network to support bids for the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagamo, Japan, and Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia, in 2000.

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