|Thursday, February 20
Updated: July 22, 5:17 PM ET
Time Warner expects to lose $30,000 on deal
By Darren Rovell
The Pay-Per-LeBron experiment has gone the way of Crystal Pepsi, the Edsel and the minidisc. It failed.
Despite widespread speculation that Time Warner, St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and the University of Akron would capitalize off the success of LeBron James by cashing in off 10 pay-per-view games, a spokesman for the cable company said the prep star's presence didn't lead to profits.
In fact, losses for the high school broadcasts could surpass $30,000, after Time Warner in northeast Ohio broadcasts its final pay-per-view game Sunday, said spokesman Bill Jasso.
James won't even be playing in the final broadcast. Instead, as he sits out the second game of his two-game suspension for accepting two retro jerseys for free, his own jersey will be retired.
In November, St. Vincent-St. Mary agreed to allow Time Warner to broadcast home games in part to accommodate those who couldn't sit in the stands for games not played at the 6,000-seat James A. Rhodes Arena on the University of Akron campus. The school had 2,500 season ticket holders despite an arena capacity of 1,700.
"Our motivation behind doing this was to allow as many alumni of our school as possible to see our games," said St. Vincent-St. Mary athletic director Grant Innocenzi. "As it unfolded, we had people accusing us of taking advantage of Lebron and that was never there. It certainly didn't turn out that way, either."
As part of the deal, Time Warner -- after paying about $5,000 in production costs per game to pay for broadcasters and cameramen in charge of four moving and two stationary cameras -- planned to split the net profits between the high school and the University of Akron. At $7.95 per game, Time Warner, which made its broadcast available to about 600,000 homes in 14 Ohio counties, had to sell approximately 630 packages per game to break even. But Jasso said the network didn't break even once.
"Many people thought we'd be making a big fat payday, but even if we did really well, we still wouldn't have been able to buy LeBron's hummer," Jasso said.
Jasso said Time Warner never wanted to make its broadcasts seem like the LeBron show. Instead of interviews with LeBron or his mother Gloria, broadcasters interviewed schools officials -- from board members to teachers -- during games.
"We didn't have the LeBron James pregame show or the LeBron James post-game wrap-up," Jasso said. "These games weren't about LeBron. They were about us experimenting what the capacity was for showing local events on pay-per-view."
The experiment didn't get off to a good start, as the first game revenues were negated when a power failure knocked out the arena lights and the game was cancelled before it even reached halftime.
Despite the losses, Time Warner did inquire with the Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) about the possibility of purchasing the rights to air St. Vincent-St. Mary games if the team advanced to the quarterfinals and semifinals of the state tournament. On Tuesday, however, OHSAA officials concluded no games before the final game -- which will be aired on the Ohio News Network on March 22 -- were for sale.
"We never really had any interest in doing live telecasts for earlier rounds of the tournament," said Bob Goldring, spokesperson for the OHSAA. "And we don't want to establish a precedent of hyping one team over another."
The Ohio News Network will broadcast the Ohio boys basketball championship game in all four divisions March 22, which makes it harder to feature St. Vincent-St. Mary's should they make it to the final contest, said ONN news director Greg Fisher.
James, the projected No. 1 pick in this year's NBA Draft, isn't even completely free to join his team -- ranked the No. 1 high school in the nation by USA Today -- for postseason play. Although he was granted a temporary injunction on Feb. 4 from the OHSAA's ruling that declared him ineligible for the rest of the season, his attorney Fred Nance will have to argue for a permanent injunction on March 4 to enable James to play in the state tournament.
It's hard to argue other television broadcasts weren't about the appeal of James.
On Dec. 12, when ESPN2 broadcast the St. Vincent-St. Mary game against Oak Hill Academy, it was the network's first broadcast of a regular-season high school game in 13 years. The battle was watched in about 1.67 million homes and the 1.97 rating made it the third-highest rated basketball game in the network's history. A second game Jan. 4 against Mater Dei garnered a 0.7 rating on ESPN2. After the YES Network broadcast a game Feb. 8, ESPN was interested in showcasing James' team again, but the possibility of showing a third game was nixed by the high school's board of trustees.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org.