April 29, 1991 12:00 PM

>THE NATURE OF TELEVISED SPORTS IS changing. Translation: Get out your checkbook. Pay-per-view has already been enthusiastically embraced by boxing and wrestling. (The Douglas-Holy field title fight in 1990 grossed a record $38.6 million on pay-per-view at $36.50 per household. Last week’s Holyfield-Foreman bout is expected to rake in more than $64 million.) Baseball, basketball and football, drooling over the profit potential, are all exploring their pay-up options.

The technology to charge cable subscribers for individual events is currently available in 16.6 million households. NBC is working aggressively to expand that number in time for the 1992 Summer Olympics, seeking to recoup the $401 million it bid for broadcast rights. In addition to its traditional over-the-air programming, NBC will be offering 540 hours of live competition on three pay-per-view channels for packages of $95—$170.

The networks and pay-per-view will no doubt coexist in that manner, at least for a while. But the staggering money won’t roll in until such big events are exclusive to pay-per-view. To pacify fans, NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue recently vowed that the Super Bowl won’t be taken away from “free” TV in this century. This is probably a good time to point out that we’re already in a fin-de-siècle situation here. What Tagliabue has issued is the equivalent of a two-minute warning: No-fee sports TV is doomed.

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