Fox Sports Net and ESPN traded barbs last week over each
network's coverage of Mark McGwire's historic 62nd home run.
Fox Sports Net, which is trying to compete with ESPN on a
national-sports level, was unable to pre-empt local coverage on its affiliated
regional-sports services to deliver live postgame coverage of the ceremony following
McGwire's record-breaking home run last Tuesday. ESPN, however, provided live
coverage throughout the night of the event.
"I think that we showed that ESPN and SportsCenter
is the true national source for sports news for sports fans," said John Walsh, senior
vice president and executive editor for ESPN. "We are beholden to the sports fans ...
Fox showed that its masters are the regional-sports networks. They were held hostage to
the [local] games, which is what the function of a regional service should be."
On a related note, ESPN's Sept. 7 St. Louis
Cardinals-Chicago Cubs Major League Baseball game telecast set an all-time network
baseball-ratings record. The game, which featured McGwire's record-tying 61st home
run, generated a 9.5 Nielsen Media Research rating, eclipsing the network's 7.5 for
Cal Ripken's record-breaking consecutive-games-played telecast Sept. 6, 1995.
The game was also ESPN's highest-rated afternoon show
ever, breaking the 6.6 rating earned by its Jan. 1, 1989, Gator Bowl college-football
Vince Wladika, vice president of media relations for Fox
Sports, admitted that about 10 million people did not see immediate live coverage of the
postgame ceremonies, but he added that they were provided with full taped coverage once
their local telecasts were completed.
"The priority for Fox Sports Net has always been the
local games," he said. "As soon as those games were over, they received the
postgame coverage that we taped for them."
Wladika then questioned whether ESPN would have pre-empted
its high-profile sports product, such as National Football League games, for the McGwire
"The question is, would this have happened on a Sunday
night ... I'm sure they would have cut away from the NFL telecasts," Wladika
said sarcastically. "The reason why they offered such extensive coverage is that they
had nothing else to do at that time."
ESPN's ratings increased significantly throughout the
McGwire postgame ceremonies. The network earned a 1.7 rating immediately after Fox
Broadcasting Network's telecast of the game, but it shot up to a 3.6 when the McGwire
press conference began several minutes later.
The ratings topped out at a 4.1 at midnight, when the
on-field celebrations began, Walsh said.