Mike Young, the vice-president and general manager of the Community Broadcasting Service, has offered an apology to viewers expecting to see Monday’s U.S. Open men’s final in its entirety on WABI-TV Channel 5.
But he said the decision to join the match between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal after the local news was made based on “our obligation and desire to serve the public interest.
“We got probably 100 emails and phone calls expressing concern, disappointment and, in some cases, outrage. But if we had pre-empted our local news, it easily would have been 10 times that,” said Young.
The match, which had been pushed back from Sunday to Monday due to postponements caused by rain last week, began at 4 p.m. and Channel 5’s one and a half hour-long local news runs from 5-6:30 p.m. They joined the match at 6:30, pre-empting the national news and local and network programming.
The match was in the third set at the time and Djokovic had won the first two sets. Nadal took the third set but Djokovic captured the fourth set to win the title.
Young said if the match had been held at any other time, WABI would have aired it in its entirety.
He said some callers wondered why they didn’t at least air the first part of the match and pre-empt the Ellen DeGeneres Show from 4-5 p.m. before switching over to the local news.
“There’s a simple answer to that question: it’s better to not start it and take it away,” explained Young. “We didn’t want people to miss the most important part of the match. We wanted to avoid another ‘Heidi’ game.”
Young was referring to an American Football League game between the New York Jets and Oakland Raiders on Nov. 17, 1968. At the end of the hour time slot, the network switched over to the movie “Heidi.” However, there were still 50 seconds left in the game and the Raiders, who trailed 32-29 when the switch was made, scored two touchdowns in the final 42 seconds to win 43-32.
Young said WABI left no stone unturned in an attempt to accommodate the tennis fans.
“We tried to move the match to the CW, our secondary channel, but they said no,” said Young. “They (CW representatives) told us we have a contract with them and there’s a clause that prohibits pre-empting any CW program during premier week and this week happens to be premier week,” said Young. “We offered them every commercial break we had in the U.S. Open, free of charge, to promote CW programming. But that wasn’t enough.”
They also contacted CBS officials to see if WABI could air the entire match, tape-delayed, later that evening but that idea was rejected, he said.
Young said the entire match was available on the Internet so viewers with computers and Internet access could have watched it. It was on the usopen.org website and Young said WABI created a link on its website tying into it.
“I apologize to those who feel we let them down. We aren’t looking for sympathy, just for a little understanding. We had to make a very difficult decision and tried to make the best decision we could. We exercised every option we could,” said Young, who made the decision with program director Steve Hiltz.
He said he hopes the viewers “judge us on balance.
“We have a tremendous lineup of network sports programming from SEC football to NCAA basketball to NFL football,” said Young. “We also do University of Maine games and the three state championship high school football games.
“I think it’s fair to say we do a pretty darned good job most of the time,” he added.
As for WABI’s University of Maine coverage, he said it will air three football games. WABI will broadcast the Oct. 1 game with Delaware beginning at 3 p.m.; the Oct. 15 game with Rhode Island (1 p.m.) and the Nov. 5 game with Towson (12:30 p.m.).
The station will also air “seven to eight men’s hockey games and one men’s basketball and one women’s basketball game.”
He also said they may add some more hockey or basketball games.