Even though Time Warner Inc. and its Turner Broadcasting
System Inc. unit have lost millions of dollars on the low-rated Goodwill Games, Turner
Sports is going full-speed ahead and adding a winter edition to Turner Network Television
next Feb. 17 through 20.
There are several reasons for that, according to industry
sources inside and outside of Time Warner.
First, the event is Time Warner vice chairman Ted
Turner's brainchild, born in the 1980s as a way to improve U.S.-Soviet relations
during the Cold War.
"That's how it started, as Ted's baby,"
said Mike Plant, president of the Goodwill Games, in a phone interview after a press
conference last Thursday confirming that Lake Placid, N.Y., will host the Winter Goodwill
Games in 2000.
"But it's become a sports property that we own
and organize, and we've made investments in it," Plant said, explaining that the
event is a way for TNT to differentiate itself from other networks among viewers and
advertisers, despite its Nielsen Media Research ratings in the 1 to 1.5 range.
Moreover, Plant pointed out, the NCAA's "March
Madness" and the National Football League's Super Bowl didn't make money
either in their early years.
"There definitely is [national sponsor]
interest," he said, although Turner has just started sales pitches for its 16-hour
event. TBS Superstation sponsors last summer included Anheuser-Busch Inc. and MCI
In one change, while CBS covered some events last time
around, Plant said, the 2000 event won't have a broadcast partner. "We
don't need that anymore," he added.
On the local end, he said, the winter edition won't
lead to higher fees for affiliates. "It's part of the TNT package," Plant
The Goodwill Games property has had mixed ad-sales results
for affiliates, with last year's local success seemingly related to proximity to the
event's New York site.
For systems well beyond that DMA, executives at Time Warner
Cable, Tele-Communications Inc. (now AT&T Broadband & Internet Services) and Cable
One reported at the time that local sponsor interest ranged from little to decent.
Figure skating (also part of the summer version), speed
skating, skiing and bobsledding will be the key winter events.
To attract more young male viewers, Turner executives said
in December that they planned to add some of the "nontraditional" sports from
ESPN's X Games. Plant said last week that he still hopes to do that.