Issuing a flurry of apologies, CBS TV sports officials yesterday said "sloppiness," not deliberate deceit, was responsible for the misleading advertising of their telecasts of "winner-take-all" tennis matches in the last two years.
"Never did we sit in a closed room and say, "How can we come up with a gimmick here? How can we deceive the public?" said RObert Wussler, president of CBS SPorts. "This happened because of sloppy procedures. There was never an effort to deceive the public."
"I take ultimate responsibility for this and I am personally embarassed." Wussler told the House Sub-committee on Communications, which is investigating the relationship between sports and television.
The Subcommittee staff issued a report, however, saying it could only conclude from its investigation that CBS "sought to mislead the public as to the nature" of the matches.
The Subcommittee staff - headed by Philip Hochberg and Harold (Chip) Shooshan - conducted a four-month probe into the network's four "Heavyweight Championship of Tennis" matches in which Jimmy Connors defeated Rod Laver, John Newcombe. Manuel Orantes and Hie Nastase.
The matches, which began Feb. 2, 1975, and ended last March 5, were inaccurately and frequently touted as "winner-take-all" $250,000 matches, except for the first contest with Laver, which carried a $100,000 tag.
In fact, each player was guaranteed large sums of money, win or lose, plus ancillary fees. Connors, for examples was guaranteed $5000,000 in two matches and $450,000 in another.
Because of a series of financial commitments between CBS and Bill Riordan, who then was Connors' agent and the championship's promoter, and between Riordan and Caesar's palace, where the first three matches were held, the advertising deception gradually unfolded.
Wussler said that in contract talks with Riordan the phrase "winner-take-all" became "almost a colloquialism . . . (which) went right by me."
In addition, according to the subcommittee report, CBS Sports executives got numerous warnings that their print and on air ads were inaccurate when Connors' lawyer asked that payments go directly to the player and not through Riordan.
Barry Frank, senior vice president of CBS Sports, said he ordered some promotional material canceled when he saw the offending phrase. And, when announcer Pat Summerall announced on the air that the match was a "winner-take-all." Frank said he relayed word to Summerall not to use the phrase again.
However, no on-air correction was made, for almost two months after the last match, when Summerall issued an apology for the misleading statements.
Because of the numerous warnings to CBS officials over the two years, the Subcommittee staff report said their conduct "cannot be excused, considering the weight of the evidence, by suggesting it was all a "mistake."
Testimony by the CBS TV and ABC-TV officials during the past two days prompted remarks of incredulity by Subcommittee members about the net-works' ordering comprehensive studies on problem areas and then not even bothering to read them.
"It is hard to contemplate," said Rep. Lou Frey (R-Flat.), "how that's become such an infectious and wide-spread virus."