Station not afraid to spend for sports

MIAMI — Seeking to cement its image as South Florida’s pre-eminent sports carrier, Barry Diller’s local programming station WAMI-TV has nabbed six-year exclusive broadcast rights to baseball’s Florida Marlins.

Terms were not disclosed, but WAMI is said to have paid close to $3.5 million, outbidding former broadcast rights holder and UPN affil WBFS and WB affil WBZL.

WAMI will air between 50 and 55 games per season, which should segue nicely from its carriage of the NBA’s Miami Heat, for which it bought five-year rights in late 1997.

WAMI bought the package from local cabler SportsChannel Florida, owned by former Marlins owner Wayne Huizenga, which retains cable rights and will carry an additional 70 to 100 games per season.

“There’s very little overlap in seasons, so the Heat will drive the Marlins and the Marlins will drive the Heat,” WAMI station manager Chuck Budt told Daily Variety.

“Even though the Marlins did poorly last season, the ratings still did well on UPN. That’s testament to baseball’s draw for Miami’s Hispanic households,” added Adam Ware, exec VP of Diller’s USA Broadcasting.

Since its June launch, WAMI has upgraded its nightly sports mag “Sportstown,” bringing in former ABC/ESPN sportscaster Mark Jones and Brad Steinke, a 17-year vet who was previously sports director for ABC in Phoenix.

WAMI has spent big on sports. Its commitment to the Heat — which has still to translate into viewing figures due to the ongoing NBA lockout — cost $6.5 million.

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