Marvs Back, But Are the Sponsors?


New York -- Madison Square Garden executives replanted
convicted sportscaster Marv Albert at MSG Network, as host of its MSG SportsDesk,
starting in mid-September, but it's unclear yet whether ad sales for the nightly
program will blossom.

David Checketts, president and CEO of MSG, acknowledged at
the press conference last week that Albert's hiring will "no doubt" assure
a ratings infusion.

"I won't deny that we made a business decision
about improved ratings," he said. "We checked with some sponsors, but not
all," to gauge their reactions to Albert's return.

"We hope that we get sponsor support" he said,
adding, "I'm not going to comment" on whether any sponsors indicated a
reluctance to buy into SportsDesk because Albert will host.

Phone calls to more than a half-dozen major ad agencies and
media-buying services about Albert's current bankability were not returned at press

The sportscaster's 30-year career with MSGN ended in
September, when he resigned after pleading guilty to misdemeanor assault charges, cutting
short a lurid trial during which stories of cross-dressing and rough-sex biting emerged.

Albert would not discuss that case, but tales of his past
sexual proclivities re-emerged in the media last week, along with criticism of his
rehiring from the National Organization for Women. However, Albert did say that his
misdemeanor charge is slated to get wiped out in October.

Joseph Cohen, executive vice president at the Garden, said,
"I can't think of anyone better" to become host of MSG SportsDesk --
MSGN's half-hour local-sports-news program, which airs at 10:30 p.m. (or after live
sports events) -- as well as to be the play-by-play announcer for one-half of the New York
Knicks' National Basketball Association games on the MSG/WFAN radio networks. On
MSGN, Albert replaces Bob Page, whose contract for SportsDesk was not renewed this
past spring.

Mike McCarthy, senior vice president and executive producer
for MSGN and Fox Sports New York, said the nightly MSGN program, which was expanded to 30
minutes in 1995, will be revamped for Albert. It will be off the air from Sept. 1 until
Albert's debut Sept. 14. In the interim, he said, the show will undergo
"substantial changes," including a newly designed set and new graphics.

That timing will be "at the brink of the basketball
and hockey season," as Albert noted.

On the radio side, Albert will do play-by-play for one-half
of the Knicks' games -- mostly home games, he said, but some road games when regular
announcer Gus Johnson isn't available.

The MSGN-Albert talks had been going on sporadically for
"a couple of months," but they turned more serious in the past month, Albert
said, adding that returning to MSGN "was always No. 1 for me."

Albert said he would approach any additional job offers
"one step at a time," but he stressed that he wants to spend more time with his
family and fiancee than he did in his former MSGN/NBC Sports era.

Albert at one point observed, "It's time for me
to look forward and turn the page." But it was unclear at press time whether Madison
Avenue buyers were on the same page.