In what new owner Daniel M. Snyder said was a move to "do something new and exciting," the Washington Redskins have anointed WRC-4 as the team's "official station" for telecasts of four preseason games and a scrimmage against the Pittsburgh Steelers this summer, ending a six-year relationship with WJLA-7.
In a two-year deal that essentially came together within the last few days, sources indicated yesterday that Channel 4, owned and operated by the NBC network, will pay the team between $2 million and $2.5 million for the package. That's an increase over the $1.8 million WJLA paid last season in the final year of its contract.
"I've got the best, look at these two guys," Snyder said yesterday at Redskin Park, pointing to Channel 4 Sports Director George Michael and Sonny Jurgensen, who will handle the game broadcast along with Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon. "We think it will be a tremendous benefit for the fans. We talked to everyone. We felt it all came down to what would be the best and the most exciting. That's what it's all about."
The agreement deals only with the games and scrimmage, and does not include any other programming. However, it allows for Channel 4 to do Redskins specials if warranted during the season. Coach Norv Turner, General Manager Charley Casserly and players all are free to negotiate their own TV and radio deals as in years past, though the team will attempt to help them in finding a place on the dial, as well as improving the production.
Snyder also indicates that he might be available under the right circumstances to make a separate deal with a radio or TV station for regular appearances, either after games or on Mondays, according to Mark Burdett, the team's new senior vice president and the station manager at Channel 7 until two weeks ago.
"Mr. Snyder is trying to organize his schedule so he can make himself available to a media partner on a full-time basis," Burdett said. "He wants to listen to offers. It's my job to come up with those offers. We're not trying to closet him from anyone. Our intent is to help all media to have better access to the team and better contact with the owner."
Unlike previous years, when the station sold all advertising, the Redskins have assumed responsibility for the sale of all in-game preseason advertising. Channel 4 will handle ad sales for pre- and postgame programming.
Channel 4 had entered negotiations with previous owner John Kent Cooke earlier in the spring, but quickly dropped out of the bidding when station executives thought the price prohibitive. Michael said Snyder entered the picture last week and a deal was struck on Monday.
Channel 7 had been considered the leading contender, and sources indicated the station had even begun to sell advertising before Channel 4 emerged. Station General Manager Chris Pike was not available to comment last night.
"We're going to do it right," said Michael, who has had play-by-play experience as the voice of the New York Islanders from 1975 to '80 as well as stints doing Ivy League football in 1972 and the Baltimore Orioles in '74. "It's a two-year deal because I want to make sure they're comfortable with what we say and I want them to be comfortable in knowing we'll be critical if it's necessary, and we're not selling tickets."
Jurgensen's presence in the television booth would take him out of the radio broadcast on flagship station WJFK for the preseason. Michael said there was a possibility that WJFK may agree to having a simulcast of the TV call of the game. Another option would be for Frank Herzog and Sam Huff, Jurgensen's longtime radio partners, to do the games without him until the regular season.
The Steelers scrimmage will be broadcast Aug. 7, followed by preseason games against the New England Patriots Aug. 13 (7:30 p.m.), the Buffalo Bills Aug. 20 (8 p.m.), the Steelers Aug. 28 (7:30 p.m.) and the Tampa Bay Bucanneers Sept 3 (7:30 p.m.).