Ownership and Rights Fees -
Conflicts of Interest & Money

AOLTimeWarner logoWalt Disney Company LogoTribune Company Logo

In addition to the media outlets of AOL and CNN, AOL-Time Warner owns the Atlanta Hawks, Atlanta Braves, and the Atlanta Thrashers. Walt Disney Company, with the media giants of ABC and ESPN, owns the Anaheim Mighty Ducks and controlling interest of the Anaheim Angels. Tribune Company owns the Chicago Cubs. The list goes on.

Media companies that own sports franchises have sparked a debate over coverage issues that may arise. Will journalists be able to write unbiased and complete stories about a sports franchise their parent company owns? Will they be apt to promote the team or to ignore serious issues?

What the Codes Say

NFL Rights Fees Graph - Courtesy Columbia Journalism Review

Hand in hand with the issue of media ownership is that of rights fees. Rights fees is the money that broadcast and cable networks pay leagues and organizations for exclusive rights to broadcast events. These numbers have become quite staggering over the past several years. Fox, CBS, ABC, and ESPN paid a total of $17.6 billion for the rights to broadcast National Football League games over 8 seasons. Compare the price CBS paid ($50,000) to cover the 1960 Winter Olympics to the $3.55 billion NBC paid in 1998 for rights to cover the summer and winter Olympic games through 2008.

With all this money being spent on coverage the temptation may be there for networks to view the sports organizations they cover as "marketing partners."

Dick Ebersol, chairman of NBC Sports, in the book Money Players, is quoted about a weekly NBA/NBC luncheon held "once the season starts up, to discuss how we're promoting, how we're producing, what we're doing with features in the pregame..."

What the Codes Say