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A-Rod clearly worth it? YES

Yankees will reap network benefits

When a big story breaks, it has ramifications across the board. So it wasn't surprising that the Yankees' signing of Alex Rodriguez last week sent ripples around the TV dial.

The Yankees figure to be even more of a network attraction this season. Both Fox and ESPN will be looking to put them on national telecasts as often as possible. That means four "Sunday Night Baseball" appearances on ESPN -- likely two of them against the Red Sox.

It also likely means nine Fox appearances, including at least two and perhaps three against the Red Sox.

If A-Rod's presence gives the Yankees' TV ratings a significant bump -- and he brings the star quality that makes New Yorkers take notice -- that will drive advertising prices higher for the Yankees- (and Nets)-owned YES Network, a benefit that will begin to pay dividends with next season's rates chart.

Still, there's a bigger prize at stake for Yankee viewers, and A-Rod could be the chip that George Steinbrenner has thrown on the table to call the final hand in a game of high-stakes poker. If the Yankees win, A-Rod will have more than paid for himself immediately.

Cablevision and the Yankees have been battling over how the team's games will be carried to the system's 2.9 million homes. The Yankees want YES Network to be on expanded basic; Cablevision wants it to be on a pay tier, along with its own MSG Network and FSN. Having A-Rod as an attraction can only bolster the YES case for expanded basic.

The case is in arbitration right now. The panel's decision, due next month, will decide how Cablevision markets YES, the price that can be charged, and the length of the deal. Technically, the A-Rod signing won't be part of the deliberations. Emotionally, it could.

It's a ruling that will be watched with great interest throughout the country as more teams ponder starting regional television networks.

Advertising revenue also is at stake. If YES winds up on a pay tier, the reduction in potential audience would force the team to make adjustments in future advertising rates or inventory.

Cablevision reaches almost as many homes in the New York Metro area (2.9 million) as NESN does in New England (3.2 million). The difference is that YES also has deals with Time-Warner, Comcast, DirecTV, and 34 other carriers and reaches a TV market of 8.2 million homes. All of the non-Cablevision carriers have the team on basic or expanded basic tiers. NESN completed its own move from pay channel to expanded basic two years ago.

Settling the issue

The same "basic tier vs. pay tier" issue was at the center of nasty carriage talks between ESPN and Cox. Both companies uncharacteristically took their arguments public, with ESPN president George Bodenheimer holding a press briefing in Washington last fall to present the case for keeping ESPN channels on expanded basic cable. Cox maintained that ESPN's annual increases had gotten out of hand and shouldn't be charged to non-sports viewers. On Thursday, ESPN announced national agreements with Cox (which services communities in Rhode Island) and Charter (with communities in Central Massachusetts). Both deals call for ESPN and ESPN2 to remain on expanded basic cable, with provisions to carry ESPN HD . . . Fox takes over NASCAR Nextel Cup coverage until July, starting with today's Subway 400 at Rockingham (Channel 25, 1 p.m.). Analyst Darrell Waltrip, who will work today's race with Mike Joy and Larry McReynolds, on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s dominance at Daytona last week: "I love dynasties. One guy being the best and everyone trying to knock him off. It's healthy and good for him and good for our sport." Fox Sports chairman David Hill on Junior: "He's becoming the Tiger Woods of NASCAR." For the record, NBC's Allen Bestwick and Bill Weber didn't slip up in referring to the new NASCAR series sponsor (Nextel) in Daytona 500 coverage. "One thing I'm struggling with on this," said McReynolds, "is how to say, `Matt Kenseth was the 2003 Winston Cup champion.' Not everything changes." . . . Woods's impact on golf is the topic of Part 3 of USA Network's four-part "Black History Month" on today's "PGA Tour Sunday" at 11 a.m. . . . Former Celtic Jo Jo White is a guest on Channel 5's "CityLine" at noon today, talking about his experience as a black athlete in Boston during the 1970s . . . Definition of show prep: WWZN's Ryen Russillo was getting ready to celebrate "The Diehards" 150th show Thursday. He wound up starting the broadcast day early, joining the midday "Eddie & Jags" show to break the news of the Celtics' trade with Detroit and Atlanta.

Goin' south

FSN is taking "New England Sports Tonight" to Fort Myers, Fla., this week, doing the half-hour show live twice a night from the DiamondHead Resort. Sox fans are invited to provide live audiences and are asked to be in the DiamondHead lobby 45 minutes before the 6:30 and 10 p.m. show times. After each show, hosts Gary Tanguay and Greg Dickerson will preside at a poolside reception . . . Channel 38 is doing nightly reports from Fort Myers (10:45-11 p.m.) . . . If you can't wait for baseball on TV, ESPN starts its spring training coverage with Mets-Dodgers March 3 at 1 p.m. Channel 38 has the first Sox spring telecast March 4 at 7 p.m., against the Twins . . . NECN's Mike Giardi will have nightly spring training segments on the 11 p.m.-midnight "Sports LateNight." . . . So will CN8, as "Sports Pulse" host Ed Berliner originates his weeknight show (10-11 p.m.) from Fort Myers starting Wednesday . . . It was, said Max Kellerman, "a perfect fit" as he joined Fox Sports Net Thursday. Kellerman will host a daily half-hour show, scheduled for a mid-April launch, and also seems a lock to join FSN's "Sunday Night Fights" as an analyst. FSN envisions the daily show as a sports-oriented cross between "The O'Reilly Factor" and "The Daily Show." On Feb. 1, Kellerman parted ways with ESPN, where he was host of the daily "Around the Horn" and a boxing studio analyst. The New York-based Kellerman no longer was willing to spend his work week in Washington, where "Around the Horn" was headquartered, then travel to Bristol, Conn., for the Friday fight duties. He was looking to be based in New York. Meanwhile, Fox, often accused of having a West Coast bias, was looking for an East Coast presence, preferably one that fit the network's mold of appealing to Generations X and Y. The 30-year-old Kellerman appears to have been a natural selection . . . File this under March Madness: Channel 4 is collaborating with WBCN, WZLX, DirecTV and Showcase Cinemas to show all 16 NCAA Division 1 men's first-round basketball tournament games on March 18 in four of Showcase's Revere theaters. Admission is by an enter-to-win promotion. Details are available over the air or at,, or at Showcase Cinemas . . . Former St. John's basketball coach Mike Jarvis will be on MSNBC's "Scarborough Country" tomorrow at 10 p.m., his first TV interview since his former players were involved in a sex scandal earlier this month . . . The Boston College men host Rutgers at noon today on NESN as they continue their push toward tournament time.

Bill Griffith's e-mail address is

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